Angularly Nonspecific Response Suppression in Rat Barrel Cortex

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Response modulation by prior sensory stimulation is a common property of cortical neurons. The degree to which effects are specific to the adapting stimulus provides insights into properties of the underlying circuitry. Here, we examined the effects of an adapting whisker deflection's angle on the angular tuning of layer IV barrel neurons and their major input source, thalamic barreloid neurons. In both barrel regular-spike units (RSUs) and fast-spike units (FSUs), presumed excitatory and inhibitory neurons, prior whisker deflections suppressed subsequent test deflections in a largely angularly nonspecific manner, that is, adaptation in one direction reduced responses for test deflections of all angles. FSUs were poorly tuned for deflection angle and remained so after adaptation. In adapted RSUs, responses to suboptimal directions were suppressed most and angular preferences remained constant; tuning therefore became sharper. Adaptation effects in RSUs and FSUs do not appear to reflect corresponding changes in thalamic neurons. The angularly nonspecific suppression of barrel neurons is likely mediated by local intrabarrel suppressive interactions, such as broadly tuned inhibition and/or short-term synaptic depression of excitatory connections. The dominance of angularly nonspecific suppression suggests that barrel neurons interact largely in an angularly nonspecific manner to reinforce stimulus preferences encoded by their synchronously firing thalamic inputs.

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