Journal of Neuroscience 17: 1179-1196, 1997
Spindle oscillations (7-14 Hz) appear in the thalamus and cortex during early stages of sleep. They are generated by the combination of intrinsic properties and connectivity patterns of thalamic neurons and distributed to cortical territories by thalamocortical axons. The corticothalamic feedback is a major factor in producing coherent spatiotemporal maps of spindle oscillations in widespread thalamic territories. Here we have investigated the spatiotemporal patterns of spontaneously occurring and evoked spindles by means of multisite field potential and unit recordings in intact cortex and decorticated animals. We show that (1) spontaneous spindle oscillations are synchronized over large cortical areas during natural sleep and barbiturate anesthesia; (2) under barbiturate anesthesia, the cortical coherence is not disrupted by transection of intracortical synaptic linkages; (3) in intact cortex animals, spontaneously occurring barbiturate spindle sequences occur nearly simultaneously over widespread thalamic territories; (4) in the absence of cortex, the spontaneous spindle oscillations throughout the thalamus are less organized, but the local coherence (within 2-4 mm) is still maintained; and (5) spindling propagation is observed in intact cortex animals only when elicited by low intensity cortical stimulation, applied shortly before the initiation of a spontaneous spindle sequence; propagation velocities are between 1 and 3 mm/sec, measured in the anteroposterior axis of the thalamus; increasing the intensity of cortical stimulation triggers spindle oscillations, which start simultaneously in all leads. We propose that, in vivo, the coherence of spontaneous spindle oscillations in corticothalamic networks is attributable to the combined action of continuous background corticothalamic input initiating spindle sequences in several thalamic sites at the same time and divergent corticothalamic and intrathalamic connectivity.