Reduced Inhibition within Layer IV ofSertKnockout Rat Barrel Cortex is Associated with Faster Sensory Integration

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Abstract

Neural activity is essential for the maturation of sensory systems. In the rodent primary somatosensory cortex (S1), high extracellular serotonin (5-HT) levels during development impair neural transmission between the thalamus and cortical input layer IV (LIV). Rodent models of impaired 5-HT transporter (SERT) function show disruption in their topological organization of S1 and in the expression of activity-regulated genes essential for inhibitory cortical network formation. It remains unclear how such alterations affect the sensory information processing within cortical LIV. Using serotonin transporter knockout (Sert−/−) rats, we demonstrate that high extracellular serotonin levels are associated with impaired feedforward inhibition (FFI), fewer perisomatic inhibitory synapses, a depolarized GABA reversal potential and reduced expression of KCC2 transporters in juvenile animals. At the neural population level, reduced FFI increases the excitatory drive originating from LIV, facilitating evoked representations in the supragranular layers II/III. The behavioral consequence of these changes in network excitability is faster integration of the sensory information during whisker-based tactile navigation, as Sert−/− rats require fewer whisker contacts with tactile targets and perform object localization with faster reaction times. These results highlight the association of serotonergic homeostasis with formation and excitability of sensory cortical networks, and consequently with sensory perception.

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