Extracellular action potentials were recorded from 73 neurons in the parvicellular division of the ventroposteromedial (VPMpc) nucleus of the thalamus of anesthetized Wistar rats during gustatory, thermal, and tactile stimulation of the whole oral cavity. The stimulus array consisted of 16 room-temperature (23°C) sapid stimuli, distilled water at three temperatures (0, 23, and 37°C), and 0.1 M NaCl at three temperatures (0, 23, and 37°C). Among all 151 neurons isolated in VPMpc, 9% responded exclusively to taste, 33% to taste and temperature, none to taste and touch, but 6% to all three modalities. Discharge rates evoked by the basic tastants were 13.8 ± 1.6 (SD) spikes/s for 0.1 M NaCl, 9.3 ± 1.4 spikes/s for 0.01 M HCl, 5.1 ± 0.9 spikes/s for 0.5 M sucrose, and 4.3 ± 0.6 spikes/s for 0.01 M quinine HCl. Water evoked mean responses at 0, 23, and 37°C of 9.9 ± 1.5, 0.6 ± 0.4, and 1.3 ± 0.9 spikes/s, respectively. The mean firing rate evoked by 37 and 0°C NaCl was 15.0 ± 2.4 and 17.0 ± 2.8 spikes/s, respectively. The exponent of the NaCl concentration-response power function was 0.39. Thalamic taste cells were broadly tuned. The mean breadth-of-tuning coefficient for these 73 gustatory cells was 0.79 ± 0.02. Two cells responded predominantly with inhibition, which accounted for the majority of inhibitory responses. The taste neurons were statistically divisible into three groups: sodium-oriented (n = 40), acid-oriented (n = 12), and sugar-oriented (n = 17). Four additional bitter-oriented neurons were not closely enough related to be defined as a group and were considered outliers. The sodium-oriented group could be divided into three statistically distinct subgroups, differing in the specificity of their responses to NaCl. With respect to polymodal sensitivity, spontaneous rate, evoked response rates, signal-to-noise ratio, proportions of cells responding best to basic tastants, taste neuron groups, taste spaces, and temporal responses, VPMpc neurons have characteristics that are intermediate between those of parabrachial and cortical gustatory neurons.
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