Cortex actively modulates the responses of thalamic relay neurons through corticothalamic (CT) projections. Here we investigated the temporal precision of CT modulation on sensory responses of relay neurons in rat ventral posterior medial (VPM) thalamus to direction-specific whisker stimuli. CT feedback levels were either augmented by cortical electrical microstimulation, or depressed by cortical application of muscimol, a potent agonist of γ-Aminobutyric acid A-type (GABAA) receptors. To evaluate the temporal specificity of CT influence, we compared the early (3-10 ms post-stimulus onset) and late (10-100 ms) response components of VPM single units to whisker deflections in preferred or non-preferred directions before and after altering CT feedback levels under urethane anesthesia. The data showed that cortical feedback most strongly affected the late responses of single VPM units to whisker stimulation. That is, cortical stimulation consistently increased the late responses of VPM units in the corresponding (homologous) barreloids to the stimulus direction preferred by neurons in the cortical locus stimulated. However, cortical stimulation could either increase or decrease the early response, depending on whether or not cortical and thalamic loci were tuned to the same direction. Such bidirectional regulation of the early and late VPM responses is consistent with a mechanism of circuit-level disinhibition in vivo. The results support the theory that CT feedback on thalamic sensory responses is mediated by a time-dependent shift of the excitation-inhibition balance in the thalamo-cortico-thalamic loop, such as would occur during sensory feature integration, plasticity and learning in the awake state.
- corticothalamic projections
- response timing
- rat barrel cortex
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology