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Neuroscience. 1997 Nov;81(1):47-55.

Modulation of cholinergic nucleus basalis neurons by acetylcholine and N-methyl-D-aspartate.

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Département de Physiologie, CMU, Genève, Switzerland.


Known to exert an important modulatory influence on the cerebral cortex, the cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain are modulated in turn by neurotransmitters which may include acetylcholine released from processes of brainstem or forebrain neurons. In the present study, we examined the effect of carbachol, a non-specific cholinergic agonist, either alone or in the presence of N-methyl-D-aspartate upon electrophysiologically identified cholinergic basalis neurons in guinea-pig basal forebrain slices. Carbachol produced a direct postsynaptic hyperpolarization, accompanied by a decrease in membrane resistance. Muscarine could mimic this hyperpolarizing effect, whereas nicotine produced a direct postsynaptic membrane depolarization. The interaction of carbachol with N-methyl-D-aspartate was subsequently tested since, in a prior study, N-methyl-D-aspartate was shown to induce rhythmic bursting in cholinergic cells when they were hyperpolarized by continuous injection of outward current. Applied simultaneously with N-methyl-D-aspartate in the absence of current injection, carbachol was also found to promote rhythmic bursting in half of the cells tested. Since the bursts under these conditions were markedly longer in duration than those observed in the presence of N-methyl-D-aspartate alone, it was hypothesized that carbachol might have another action, in addition to the membrane hyperpolarization. Using dissociated cells, it was found that brief applications of carbachol could indeed diminish the slow afterhyperpolarizations that follow single spikes, short bursts or long trains of action potentials in cholinergic basalis neurons. These results indicate that, through its dual ability to hyperpolarize cholinergic neurons and to reduce their afterhyperpolarizations, acetylcholine can promote the occurrence of rhythmic bursting in the presence of N-methyl-D-aspartate. Accordingly, whether derived from brainstem or local sources, acetylcholine may facilitate rhythmic discharge in cholinergic basalis neurons which could in turn impose a rhythmic modulation upon cortical activity during particular states across the sleep-waking cycle.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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