Modeling corticothalamic feedback and the gating of the thalamus by the cerebral cortex.

Alain Destexhe

Journal of Physiology (Paris) 94: 391-410, 2000.

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Morphological studies have shown that excitatory synapses from the cortex constitute the major source of synapses in the thalamus. However, the effect of these corticothalamic synapses on the function of the thalamus is not well understood because thalamic neurones have complex intrinsic firing properties and interact through multiple types of synaptic receptors. Here we investigate these interactions using computational models. We show first, using models of reconstructed thalamic relay neurones, that the effect of corticothalamic synapses on relay cells can be similar to that of afferent synapses, in amplitude, kinetics and timing, although these synapses are located in different regions of the dendrites. This suggests that cortical EPSPs may complement (or predict) the afferent information. Second, using models of reconstructed thalamic reticular neurones, we show that high densities of the low-threshold Ca2+ current in dendrites can give these cells an exquisite sensitivity to cortical EPSPs, but only if their dendrites are hyperpolarized. This property has consequences at the level of thalamic circuits, where corticothalamic EPSPs evoke bursts in reticular neurones and recruit relay cells predominantly through feedforward inhibition. On the other hand, with depolarized dendrites, thalamic reticular neurones do not generate bursts and the cortical influence on relay cells is mostly excitatory. Models therefore suggest that the cortical influence can either promote or antagonize the relay of information, depending on the state of the dendrites of reticular neurones. The control of these dendrites may therefore be a determinant of attentional mechanisms. We also review the effect of corticothalamic feedback at the network level, and show how the cortical control over the thalamus is essential in co-ordinating widespread, coherent oscillations. We suggest mechanisms by which different modes of corticothalamic interaction would allow oscillations of very different spatiotemporal coherence to coexist in the thalamocortical system.
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