Causal relationships between neurons of the nucleus incertus and the hippocampal theta activity in the rat

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In recent years, a body of evidence has shown that the nucleus incertus (NI), in the dorsal tegmental pons, is a key node of the brainstem circuitry involved in hippocampal theta rhythmicity. Ascending reticular brainstem system activation evokes hippocampal theta rhythm with coupled neuronal activity in the NI. In a recent paper, we showed three populations of neurons in the NI with differential firing during hippocampal theta activation. The objective of this work was to better evaluate the causal relationship between the activity of NI neurons and the hippocampus during theta activation in order to further understand the role of the NI in the theta network. A Granger causality analysis was run to determine whether hippocampal theta activity with sensory-evoked theta depends on the neuronal activity of the NI, or vice versa. The analysis showed causal interdependence between the NI and the hippocampus during theta activity, whose directional flow depended on the different neuronal assemblies of the NI. Whereas type I and II NI neurons mainly acted as receptors of hippocampal information, type III neuronal activity was the predominant source of flow between the NI and the hippocampus in theta states. We further determined that the electrical activation of the NI was able to reset hippocampal waves with enhanced theta-band power, depending on the septal area. Collectively, these data suggest that hippocampal theta oscillations after sensory activation show dependence on NI neuron activity, which could play a key role in establishing optimal conditions for memory encoding.

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