Cholinergic modulation of vibrissal receptive fields in trigeminal nuclei.

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Animals, Animals-Newborn, Carbachol, Choline-O-Acetyltransferase, Cholinergic-Agonists, Immunohistochemistry, Lysine, Male, Membrane-Potentials, Microscopy-Electron, Neural-Pathways, Neurons, Patch-Clamp-Techniques, Presynaptic-Terminals, Rats, Rats-Sprague-Dawley, Stilbamidines, Trigeminal-Nuclei, Vibrissae

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J Neurosci 2005 Oct; 25(40):9135-43.


In sensory systems, it is usually considered that mesopontine cholinergic neurons exert their modulatory action in the thalamus by enhancing the relay of sensory messages during states of neural network desynchronization. Here, we report a projection heretofore unknown of these cholinergic cells to the interpolar division of the brainstem trigeminal complex in rats. After FluoroGold injection in the interpolar nucleus, a number of retrogradely labeled cells were found bilaterally in the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus, and immunostaining revealed that the vast majority of these cells were also positive for choline acetyltransferase. Immunostaining for the acetylcholine vesicular transporter confirmed the presence of cholinergic terminals in the interpolar nucleus, where electron microscopy showed that they make symmetric and asymmetric synaptic contacts with dendrites and axon terminals. In agreement with these anatomical data, recordings in slices showed that the cholinergic agonist carbachol depolarizes large-sized interpolaris cells and increases their excitability. Local application of carbachol in vivo enhances responses to adjacent whiskers, whereas systemic administration of the cholinergic antagonist scopolamine produces an opposite effect. Together, these results show that mesopontine cholinergic neurons exert a direct, effective control over receptive field size at the very first relay stations of the vibrissal system in rodents. As far as receptive field synthesis in the lemniscal pathway relies on intersubnuclear projections from the spinal complex, it follows that cholinergic modulation of sensory transmission in the interpolar nucleus will have a direct bearing on the type of messages that is forwarded to the thalamus and cerebral cortex.