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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Aug 5;94(16):8854-9.

Nucleus reticularis neurons mediate diverse inhibitory effects in thalamus.

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Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Room M016, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.


Detailed information regarding the contribution of individual gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-containing inhibitory neurons to the overall synaptic activity of single postsynaptic cells is essential to our understanding of fundamental elements of synaptic integration and operation of neuronal circuits. For example, GABA-containing cells in the thalamic reticular nucleus (nRt) provide major inhibitory innervation of thalamic relay nuclei that is critical to thalamocortical rhythm generation. To investigate the contribution of individual nRt neurons to the strength of this internuclear inhibition, we obtained whole-cell recordings of unitary inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) evoked in ventrobasal thalamocortical (VB) neurons by stimulation of single nRt cells in rat thalamic slices, in conjunction with intracellular biocytin labeling. Two types of monosynaptic IPSCs could be distinguished. "Weak" inhibitory connections were characterized by a significant number of postsynaptic failures in response to presynaptic nRt action potentials and relatively small IPSCs. In contrast, "strong" inhibition was characterized by the absence of postsynaptic failures and significantly larger unitary IPSCs. By using miniature IPSC amplitudes to infer quantal size, we estimated that unitary IPSCs associated with weak inhibition resulted from activation of 1-3 release sites, whereas stronger inhibition would require simultaneous activation of 5-70 release sites. The inhibitory strengths were positively correlated with the density of axonal swellings of the presynaptic nRt neurons, an indicator that characterizes different nRt axonal arborization patterns. These results demonstrate that there is a heterogeneity of inhibitory interactions between nRt and VB neurons, and that variations in gross morphological features of axonal arbors in the central nervous system can be associated with significant differences in postsynaptic response characteristics.

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