Functional Organization of the Somatosensory Cortical Layer 6 Feedback to the Thalamus

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The pathway from cortical layer 6 to the thalamus is a property of all thalamic relay nuclei. This pathway, as a population, directly excites relay cells and indirectly inhibits them via the thalamic reticular nucleus. To understand the circuit organization of this cortical feedback, we used laser-scanning photostimulation, which specifically activates somata or dendrites, to stimulate the primary somatosensory cortex in an in vitro thalamocortical slice preparation while recording from neurons of the ventral posterior medial nucleus. Layer 6 photostimulation evoked biphasic excitatory postsynaptic current/inhibitory postsynaptic current (EPSC/IPSC) responses in the neurons of the ventral posterior medial nucleus, indicating that such photostimulation strongly activates reticular cells. These disynaptic IPSCs were greatly suppressed or abolished by bath application of the muscarinic agonist acetyl-β-methylcholine. Our results suggest that the top-down modulation of thalamic neurons from cortical layer 6 involves an inhibitory component via the thalamic reticular nucleus, and this component can be selectively reduced by cholinergic input. Finally, we found the footprints for the excitatory corticothalamic and the inhibitory cortico-reticulo-thalamic inputs to be located in similar positions, though in some cases they are offset. Both patterns have implications for cortico-reticulo-thalamic circuitry.

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