Convergence of Cortical and Sensory Driver Inputs on Single Thalamocortical Cells

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Ascending and descending information is relayed through the thalamus via strong, “driver” pathways. According to our current knowledge, different driver pathways are organized in parallel streams and do not interact at the thalamic level. Using an electron microscopic approach combined with optogenetics and in vivo physiology, we examined whether driver inputs arising from different sources can interact at single thalamocortical cells in the rodent somatosensory thalamus (nucleus posterior, POm). Both the anatomical and the physiological data demonstrated that ascending driver inputs from the brainstem and descending driver inputs from cortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons converge and interact on single thalamocortical neurons in POm. Both individual pathways displayed driver properties, but they interacted synergistically in a time-dependent manner and when co-activated, supralinearly increased the output of thalamus. As a consequence, thalamocortical neurons reported the relative timing between sensory events and ongoing cortical activity. We conclude that thalamocortical neurons can receive 2 powerful inputs of different origin, rather than only a single one as previously suggested. This allows thalamocortical neurons to integrate raw sensory information with powerful cortical signals and transfer the integrated activity back to cortical networks.

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