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J Neurophysiol. 2006 Mar;95(3):1656-68.

Prefrontal cortex-projecting glutamatergic thalamic paraventricular nucleus-excited by hypocretin: a feedforward circuit that may enhance cognitive arousal.

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Dept. of Neurosurgery, Yale Univ., School of Medicine, 333 Cedar St., New Haven, CT 06520, USA.


The paraventricular thalamic nucleus (PVT) receives one of the most dense innervations by hypothalamic hypocretin/orexin (Hcrt) neurons, which play important roles in sleep-wakefulness, attention, and autonomic function. The PVT projects to several loci, including the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a cortical region involved in associative function and attention. To study the effect of Hcrt on excitatory PVT neurons that project to the mPFC, we used a new line of transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of the vesicular glutamate-transporter-2 promoter. These neurons were retrogradely labeled with cholera toxin subunit B that had been microinjected into the mPFC. Membrane characteristics and responses to hypocretin-1 and -2 (Hcrt-1 and -2) were studied using whole cell recording (n > 300). PVT neurons showed distinct membrane properties including inward rectification, H-type potassium currents, low threshold spikes, and spike frequency adaptation. Cortically projecting neurons were depolarized and excited by Hcrt-2. Hcrt-2 actions were stronger than those of Hcrt-1, and the action persisted in TTX and in low calcium/high magnesium artificial cerebrospinal fluid, consistent with direct actions mediated by Hcrt receptor-2. Two mechanisms of Hcrt excitation were found: an increase in input resistance caused by closure of potassium channels and activation of nonselective cation channels. The robust excitation evoked by Hcrt-2 on cortically projecting glutamate PVT neurons could generate substantial excitation in multiple layers of the mPFC, adding to the more selective direct excitatory actions of Hcrt in the mPFC and potentially increasing cortical arousal and attention to limbic or visceral states.

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