Journal of Neurophysiology

Effects of membrane voltage on receptive field properties of lateral geniculate neurons in the cat: contributions of the low-threshold Ca2+ conductance

S. M. Lu, W. Guido, S. M. Sherman


1. Thalamic relay cells, including those of the lateral geniculate nucleus, display a low-threshold spike (LT spike), which is a large depolarization due to an increased Ca2+ conductance. Typically riding the crest of each LT spike is a burst of from two to seven action potentials, which we refer to as the LT burst. The LT spike is voltage dependent, because if the cell's resting membrane potential is more depolarized than roughly -60 mV, the LT spike is inactivated, but if more hyperpolarized, the spike is deinactivated and can be activated by a depolarization, such as from an afferent excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP). Thalamic relay cells thus display two response modes: a relay or tonic mode, when the cell is depolarized and LT spikes are inactivated, leading to tonic firing of action potentials; and a burst mode, when the cell is hyperpolarized and tends to respond with LT spikes and their associated bursts of action potentials. 2. We were interested in the contribution of the LT spike on the transmission of visually evoked signals through geniculate relay cells to visual cortex. We recorded intracellularly from geniculate cells in an anesthetized, paralyzed, in vivo cat preparation to study the effects of membrane voltage, and thus the presence or absence of LT spikes, on responses to drifting sine-wave gratings. We monitored the visually evoked responses of 14 geniculate neurons (6 X, 7 Y, and 1 unclassified) at different membrane potentials at which LT spikes were inactivated or deinactivated. 3. Changing membrane voltage during visual stimulation switched the response mode of every cell between the relay and burst modes. In the burst mode, LT spikes occurred in phase with the visual stimulus and not at rhythmic intervals uncorrelated to visual stimuli. To any given stimulus cycle, the cell responded usually with an LT burst or a tonic response, and rarely was more than one LT burst evoked by a stimulus cycle. Occasionally a single cycle evoked both an LT burst and tonic response, but always the LT burst occurred first. 4. The spatial tuning characteristics of the cells did not differ dramatically as a function of membrane potential, because the tuning of the LT bursts was quite similar to that of the tonic response component. Although we did not obtain complete temporal tuning properties, we did note that hyperpolarized cells responded reliably with LT bursts at several temporal frequencies. 5. A consistent difference was seen between the LT burst and tonic response components in terms of response linearity.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)