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Neurosci Lett. 2011 Jul 12;498(3):179-84. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2011.02.051. Epub 2011 Mar 6.

Single-cell persistent activity in anterodorsal thalamus.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, United States.


The anterodorsal nucleus of the thalamus contains a high percentage of head-direction cells whose activities are correlated with an animal's directional heading in the horizontal plane. The firing of head-direction cells could involve self-sustaining reverberating activity in a recurrent network, but the thalamus by itself lacks strong excitatory recurrent synaptic connections to sustain tonic reverberating activity. Here we examined whether a single thalamic neuron could sustain its own activity without synaptic input by recording from individual neurons from anterodorsal thalamus in brain slices with synaptic blockers. We found that the rebound firing induced by hyperpolarizing pulses often decayed slowly so that a thalamic neuron could keep on firing for many minutes after stimulation. The hyperpolarization-induced persistent firing rate was graded under repeated current injections, and could be enhanced by serotonin. The effect of depolarizing pulses was much weaker and only slightly accelerated the decay of the hyperpolarization-induced persistent firing. Our finding provides the first direct evidence for single-cell persistent activity in the thalamus, supporting the notion that cellular mechanisms at the slow time scale of minutes might potentially contribute to the operations of the head-direction system.

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