Journal of Neurophysiology

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Abolition of spindle oscillations in thalamic neurons disconnected from nucleus reticularis thalami

M. Steriade, M. Deschenes, L. Domich, C. Mulle


The effects of depriving thalamic relay and intralaminar nuclei from their reticularis thalami (RE) inputs were investigated in acute and chronic experiments on cat. In acutely prepared animals, two (frontal and parasagittal) thalamic transections were made; extracellular and intracellular recordings were performed in RE-disconnected thalamic nuclei. In chronic experiments, the RE nuclear complex was lesioned by means of kainic acid injections; the activity of RE-deprived thalamocortical neurons was extracellularly studied during wakefulness and synchronized sleep. Two features distinguish RE-deprived nuclei from normal thalamic nuclei: absence of spindle-wave rhythmicity and all-burst activity of neurons. The abolition of spindle-related rhythms (sequences of 7- to 14-Hz waves recurring periodically with a rhythm of 0.1-0.2 Hz) in RE-disconnected thalamic nuclei and ipsilateral neocortical areas contrasted with normal spindling rhythmicity in contralateral EEG leads. Spontaneously occurring, rhythmic, long-lasting inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs), as observed in intact preparations, were no longer observed in RE-disconnected thalamic neurons. The remaining inhibitory events consisted of short-duration IPSPs. The possibility that RE nucleus is a pacemaker for spindling rhythms, imposing them through inhibitory projections to target thalamic areas, is supported by our concurrent experiments that indicate RE neurons preserve their rhythmicity after disconnection from their major (cortical and thalamic) input sources. RE-deprived thalamocortical neurons exclusively exhibit high-frequency spike bursts whose intrinsic structure is identical to that of intact thalamic relay cells. Instead of the spindle-related sequences of bursts seen in normal animals, the bursts of RE-disconnected thalamocortical neurons are single events, with a dramatic rhythmicity at 1-2 Hz. The presumed mechanism of this rhythmicity is the periodic activation of a low-threshold somatic conductance whose deinactivation is brought about by temporal integration of short-lasting IPSPs. It is known that high-frequency spike bursts of thalamic relay neurons result from hyperpolarization of cell membrane. We blocked the underlying inhibitory events by bicuculline and reversibly changed the all-burst activity of RE-disconnected neurons into a tonic mode. Since the only activity of RE-deprived thalamocortical neurons consists of burst discharges, we hypothesize that local-circuit GABAergic neurons are released from inhibition after RE disconnection or lesion.