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Wiring patterns in the mouse retina: collecting evidence across the connectome, physiology and light microscopy

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

The visual system has often been thought of as a parallel processor because distinct regions of the brain process different features of visual information. However, increasing evidence for convergence and divergence of circuit connections, even at the level of the retina where visual information is first processed, chips away at a model of dedicated and distinct pathways for parallel information flow. Instead, our current understanding is that parallel channels may emerge, not from exclusive microcircuits for each channel, but from unique combinations of microcircuits. This review depicts diagrammatically the current knowledge and remaining puzzles about the retinal circuit with a focus on the mouse retina. Advances in techniques for labelling cells and genetic manipulations have popularized the use of transgenic mice. We summarize evidence gained from serial electron microscopy, electrophysiology and light microscopy to illustrate the wiring patterns in mouse retina. We emphasize the need to explore proposed retinal connectivity using multiple methods to verify circuits both structurally and functionally.

Resurgent current of voltage-gated Na+ channels

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

Resurgent Na+ current results from a distinctive form of Na+ channel gating, originally identified in cerebellar Purkinje neurons. In these neurons, the tetrodotoxin-sensitive voltage-gated Na+ channels responsible for action potential firing have specialized mechanisms that reduce the likelihood that they accumulate in fast inactivated states, thereby shortening refractory periods and permitting rapid, repetitive, and/or burst firing. Under voltage clamp, step depolarizations evoke transient Na+ currents that rapidly activate and quickly decay, and step repolarizations elicit slower channel reopening, or a ‘resurgent’ current. The generation of resurgent current depends on a factor in the Na+ channel complex, probably a subunit such as NaVβ4 (Scn4b), which blocks open Na+ channels at positive voltages, competing with the fast inactivation gate, and unblocks at negative voltages, permitting recovery from an open channel block along with a flow of current. Following its initial discovery, resurgent Na+ current has been found in nearly 20 types of neurons. Emerging research suggests that resurgent current is preferentially increased in a variety of clinical conditions associated with altered cellular excitability. Here we review the biophysical, molecular and structural mechanisms of resurgent current and their relation to the normal functions of excitable cells as well as pathophysiology.

Rapid mapping of visual receptive fields by filtered back projection: application to multi-neuronal electrophysiology and imaging

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

Neurons in the visual system vary widely in the spatiotemporal properties of their receptive fields (RFs), and understanding these variations is key to elucidating how visual information is processed. We present a new approach for mapping RFs based on the filtered back projection (FBP), an algorithm used for tomographic reconstructions. To estimate RFs, a series of bars were flashed across the retina at pseudo-random positions and at a minimum of five orientations. We apply this method to retinal neurons and show that it can accurately recover the spatial RF and impulse response of ganglion cells recorded on a multi-electrode array. We also demonstrate its utility for in vivo imaging by mapping the RFs of an array of bipolar cell synapses expressing a genetically encoded Ca2+ indicator. We find that FBP offers several advantages over the commonly used spike-triggered average (STA): (i) ON and OFF components of a RF can be separated; (ii) the impulse response can be reconstructed at sample rates of 125 Hz, rather than the refresh rate of a monitor; (iii) FBP reveals the response properties of neurons that are not evident using STA, including those that display orientation selectivity, or fire at low mean spike rates; and (iv) the FBP method is fast, allowing the RFs of all the bipolar cell synaptic terminals in a field of view to be reconstructed in under 4 min. Use of the FBP will benefit investigations of the visual system that employ electrophysiology or optical reporters to measure activity across populations of neurons.

LRRC8A protein is indispensable for swelling-activated and ATP-induced release of excitatory amino acids in rat astrocytes

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

In mammals, cellular swelling activates release of small organic osmolytes, including the excitatory amino acids (EAA) glutamate and aspartate, via a ubiquitously expressed volume-regulated chloride/anion channel (VRAC). Pharmacological evidence suggests that VRAC plays plural physiological and pathological roles, including excitotoxic release of glutamate in stroke. However, the molecular identity of this pathway was unknown. Two recent studies discovered that LRRC8 gene family members encode heteromeric VRAC composed of LRRC8A plus LRRC8B-E, which mediate swelling-activated Cl currents and taurine release in human non-neural cells (Z. Qiu et al. Cell 157: 447, 2014; F.K. Voss et al. Science 344: 634, 2014). Here, we tested the contribution of LRRC8A to the EAA release in brain glia. We detected and quantified expression levels of LRRC8A-E in primary rat astrocytes with quantitative RT-PCR and then downregulated LRRC8A with gene-specific siRNAs. In astrocytes exposed to hypo-osmotic media, LRRC8A knockdown dramatically reduced swelling-activated release of the EAA tracer d-[3H]aspartate. In parallel HPLC assays, LRRC8A siRNA prevented hypo-osmotic media-induced loss of the endogenous intracellular l-glutamate and taurine. Furthermore, downregulation of LRRC8A completely ablated the ATP-stimulated release of d-[3H]aspartate and [14C]taurine from non-swollen astrocytes. Overall, these data indicate that LRRC8A is an indispensable component of a permeability pathway that mediates both swelling-activated and agonist-induced amino acid release in brain glial cells.

Calcium-buffering effects of gluconate and nucleotides, as determined by a novel fluorimetric titration method

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

Significantly more Ca2+ influx is required for eliciting release of neurotransmitter during whole cell patch clamp recording in the Calyx of Held, when gluconate with 3 mm free ATP is used as pipette filling solution, as compared to a methanesulfonate-based solution with excess Mg2+. This reduction in efficiency of Ca2+ in eliciting release is due to low-affinity Ca2+ binding of both gluconate and ATP2– anions. To study these effects we developed a simple fluorimeteric titration procedure, which reports the dissociation constant, KD, of a given Ca2+ indicator dye, multiplied by 1 plus the sum of Ca2+ binding ratios of any anions, which act as low-affinity Ca2+ ligands. For solutions without Ca2+ binding anions we find KD values for Fura2FF ranging from 11.5 ± 1.7 to 15.6 ± 7.47 μm depending on the dominant anion used. For Fura6F and KCl-based solutions we find KD = 17.8 ± 1.3 μm. For solutions with gluconate as the main anion and for solutions that contain nucleotides, such as ATP and GTP, we find much higher values for the product. Assuming that the KD of the indicator dye is equal to that of KCl-based solutions we calculate the summed Ca2+ binding ratios and find a value of 3.55 for a solution containing 100 mm potassium gluconate and 4 mm ATP. Gluconate contributes a value of 1.75 to this number, while the contribution of ATP depends strongly on the presence of Mg2+ and varies from 0.8 (with excess Mg2+) to 13.8 (in the presence of 3 mm free ATP). Methanesulfonate has negligible Ca2+ binding capacity. These results explain the reduced efficiency of Ca2+ influx in the presence of gluconate or nucleotides, as these anions are expected to intercept Ca2+ ions at short distance.

NMDA and AMPA receptors contribute similarly to temporal processing in mammalian retinal ganglion cells

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

Postsynaptic AMPA- and NMDA-type glutamate receptors (AMPARs, NMDARs) are commonly expressed at the same synapses. AMPARs are thought to mediate the majority of fast excitatory neurotransmission whereas NMDARs, with their relatively slower kinetics and higher Ca2+ permeability, are thought to mediate synaptic plasticity, especially in neural circuits devoted to learning and memory. In sensory neurons, however, the roles of AMPARs and NMDARs are less well understood. Here, we tested in the in vitro guinea pig retina whether AMPARs and NMDARs differentially support temporal contrast encoding by two ganglion cell types. In both OFF Alpha and Delta ganglion cells, contrast stimulation evoked an NMDAR-mediated response with a characteristic J-shaped I–V relationship. In OFF Delta cells, AMPAR- and NMDAR-mediated responses could be modulated at low frequencies but were suppressed during 10 Hz stimulation, when responses were instead shaped by synaptic inhibition. With inhibition blocked, both AMPAR- and NMDAR-mediated responses could be modulated at 10 Hz, indicating that NMDAR kinetics do not limit temporal encoding. In OFF Alpha cells, NMDAR-mediated responses followed stimuli at frequencies up to ~18 Hz. In both cell types, NMDAR-mediated responses to contrast modulation at 9–18 Hz showed delays of <10 ms relative to AMPAR-mediated responses. Thus, NMDARs combine with AMPARs to encode rapidly modulated glutamate release, and NMDAR kinetics do not limit temporal coding by OFF Alpha and Delta ganglion cells substantially. Furthermore, glutamatergic transmission is differentially regulated across bipolar cell pathways: in some, release is suppressed at high temporal frequencies by presynaptic inhibition.

Opposite regulation of inhibitory synaptic plasticity by {alpha} and {beta} subunits of Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

Induction of several forms of synaptic plasticity, a cellular basis for learning and memory, depends on the activation of Ca2+/calmodulin (CaM)-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII acts as a holoenzyme consisting of α and β subunits (α- and βCaMKII). However, it remains elusive how the subunit composition of a CaMKII holoenzyme affects its activation and hence synaptic plasticity. We addressed this issue by focusing on long-term potentiation (LTP) at inhibitory synapses on cerebellar Purkinje neurons (PNs) (called rebound potentiation, RP). The contribution of each subunit to RP was examined by selective knock-down or overexpression of that subunit. Electrophysiological recording from a rat cultured PN demonstrated that βCaMKII is essential for RP induction, whereas αCaMKII suppresses it. Thus, RP was negatively regulated due to the greater relative abundance of αCaMKII compared to βCaMKII, suggesting a critical role of CaMKII subunit composition in RP. The higher affinity of βCaMKII to Ca2+/CaM compared with αCaMKII was responsible for the predominant role in RP induction. Live-cell imaging of CaMKII activity based on the Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) technique revealed that βCaMKII enrichment enhances the total CaMKII activation upon a transient conditioning depolarization. Taken together, these findings clarified that α- and βCaMKII oppositely regulate CaMKII activation, controlling the induction of inhibitory synaptic plasticity in a PN, which might contribute to the adaptive information processing of the cerebellar cortex.

Components of action potential repolarization in cerebellar parallel fibres

Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014
Key points

  • The presynaptic action potential waveform was investigated in cerebellar parallel fibres from rats.

  • The spike repolarization was composed of a fast tetraethylammonium-sensitive component and a slow margatoxin-sensitive depolarized after-potential (DAP). These components could be manipulated relatively independently, possibly offering independent control of synchronous and asynchronous transmitter release.

  • Axonal electrical activation sometimes gave bursts of action potentials at the soma; these bursts were created by the axon because they invaded the soma at membrane potentials well below the somatic spike threshold.

  • Axonal bursts could reliably be induced by increasing the DAP pharmacologically, suggesting that proper control of DAP amplitude is necessary to suppress axonal bursting.

  • The fast repolarization was particularly well controlled because blockers of three groups of K+ channels (tetraethylammonium, margatoxin and quinine) were needed to abolish it.

  • Abstract

    Repolarization of the presynaptic action potential is essential for transmitter release, excitability and energy expenditure. Little is known about repolarization in thin, unmyelinated axons forming en passant synapses, which represent the most common type of axons in the mammalian brain's grey matter. We used rat cerebellar parallel fibres, an example of typical grey matter axons, to investigate the effects of K+ channel blockers on repolarization. We show that repolarization is composed of a fast tetraethylammonium (TEA)-sensitive component, determining the width and amplitude of the spike, and a slow margatoxin (MgTX)-sensitive depolarized after-potential (DAP). These two components could be recorded at the granule cell soma as antidromic action potentials and from the axons with a newly developed miniaturized grease-gap method. A considerable proportion of fast repolarization remained in the presence of TEA, MgTX, or both. This residual was abolished by the addition of quinine. The importance of proper control of fast repolarization was demonstrated by somatic recordings of antidromic action potentials. In these experiments, the relatively broad K+ channel blocker 4-aminopyridine reduced the fast repolarization, resulting in bursts of action potentials forming on top of the DAP. We conclude that repolarization of the action potential in parallel fibres is supported by at least three groups of K+ channels. Differences in their temporal profiles allow relatively independent control of the spike and the DAP, whereas overlap of their temporal profiles provides robust control of axonal bursting properties.

    Supralinear dendritic Ca2+ signalling in young developing CA1 pyramidal cells

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014
    Key points

  • Because intracellular Ca2+ is important for activity-dependent growth and development, we studied action potential (AP)-evoked dendritic Ca2+ influx and Ca2+ buffering in developing rat CA1 pyramidal cells during the first 1–4 weeks after birth.

  • We show for the first time that active dendritic backpropagation of APs generates large Ca2+ transients in pyramidal cell dendrites even after the first postnatal week.

  • The amplitude of Ca2+ transients at 1 week is similar to that at 4 weeks because a four-fold upregulation of calcium influx per AP is balanced by a similar increase in endogenous Ca2+ buffer capacity during this period.

  • The calcium extrusion after APs was about five times slower at 1 week than at 4 weeks, resulting in a slower decay in young cells and a more effective temporal summation during brief bursts of APs.

  • During continuous theta-burst firing, dendritic calcium concentration was up to three-fold larger in animals aged 1 week than in those aged 4 weeks, generated via an activity-dependent slow-down of Ca2+ extrusion, which may allow Ca2+-dependent control of growth and development with a large dynamic range.

  • Abstract

    Although Ca2+ is critically important in activity-dependent neuronal development, not much is known about the regulation of dendritic Ca2+ signals in developing neurons. Here, we used ratiometric Ca2+ imaging to investigate dendritic Ca2+ signalling in rat hippocampal pyramidal cells during the first 1–4 weeks of postnatal development. We show that active dendritic backpropagation of Nav channel-dependent action potentials (APs) evoked already large dendritic Ca2+ transients in animals aged 1 week with amplitudes of ~150 nm, similar to the amplitudes of ~160 nM seen in animals aged 4 weeks. Although the AP-evoked dendritic Ca2+ load increased about four times during the first 4 weeks, the peak amplitude of free Ca2+ concentration was balanced by a four-fold increase in Ca2+ buffer capacity s (~70 vs. ~280). Furthermore, Ca2+ extrusion rates increased with postnatal development, leading to a slower decay time course (~0.2 s vs. ~0.1 s) and more effective temporal summation of Ca2+ signals in young cells. Most importantly, during prolonged theta-burst stimulation dendritic Ca2+ signals were up to three times larger in cells at 1 week than at 4 weeks of age and much larger than predicted by linear summation, which is attributable to an activity-dependent slow-down of Ca2+ extrusion. As Ca2+ influx is four-fold smaller in young cells, the larger Ca2+ signals are generated using four times less ATP consumption. Taken together, the data suggest that active backpropagations regulate dendritic Ca2+ signals during early postnatal development. Remarkably, during prolonged AP firing, Ca2+ signals are several times larger in young than in mature cells as a result of activity-dependent regulation of Ca2+ extrusion rates.

    Glial GABA, synthesized by monoamine oxidase B, mediates tonic inhibition

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    GABA is the major inhibitory transmitter in the brain and is released not only from a subset of neurons but also from glia. Although neuronal GABA is well known to be synthesized by glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), the source of glial GABA is unknown. After estimating the concentration of GABA in Bergmann glia to be around 5–10 mm by immunogold electron microscopy, we demonstrate that GABA production in glia requires MAOB, a key enzyme in the putrescine degradation pathway. In cultured cerebellar glia, both Ca2+-induced and tonic GABA release are significantly reduced by both gene silencing of MAOB and the MAOB inhibitor selegiline. In the cerebellum and striatum of adult mice, general gene silencing, knock out of MAOB or selegiline treatment resulted in elimination of tonic GABA currents recorded from granule neurons and medium spiny neurons. Glial-specific rescue of MAOB resulted in complete rescue of tonic GABA currents. Our results identify MAOB as a key synthesizing enzyme of glial GABA, which is released via bestrophin 1 (Best1) channel to mediate tonic inhibition in the brain.

    The properties, distribution and function of Na+-Ca2+ exchanger isoforms in rat cutaneous sensory neurons

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    The Na+–Ca2+ exchanger (NCX) appears to play an important role in the regulation of the high K+-evoked Ca2+ transient in putative nociceptive dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons. The purpose of the present study was to (1) characterize the properties of NCX activity in subpopulations of DRG neurons, (2) identify the isoform(s) underlying NCX activity, and (3) begin to assess the function of the isoform(s) in vivo. In retrogradely labelled neurons from the glabrous skin of adult male Sprague–Dawley rats, NCX activity, as assessed with fura-2-based microfluorimetry, was only detected in putative nociceptive IB4+ neurons. There were two modes of NCX activity: one was evoked in response to relatively large and long lasting (~325 nm for >12 s) increases in the concentration of intracellular Ca2+ ([Ca2+]i), and a second was active at resting [Ca2+]i > ~150 nm. There also were two modes of evoked activity: one that decayed relatively rapidly (<5 min) and a second that persisted (>10 min). Whereas mRNA encoding all three NCX isoforms (NCX1–3) was detected in putative nociceptive cutaneous neurons with single cell PCR, pharmacological analysis and small interfering RNA (siRNA) knockdown of each isoform in vivo suggested that NCX2 and 3 were responsible for NCX activity. Western blot analyses suggested that NCX isoforms were differentially distributed within sensory neurons. Functional assays of excitability, action potential propagation, and nociceptive behaviour suggest NCX activity has little influence on excitability per se, but instead influences axonal conduction velocity, resting membrane potential, and nociceptive threshold. Together these results indicate that the function of NCX in the regulation of [Ca2+]i in putative nociceptive neurons may be unique relative to other cells in which these exchanger isoforms have been characterized and it has the potential to influence sensory neuron properties at multiple levels.

    Role of membrane cholesterol in spontaneous exocytosis at frog neuromuscular synapses: reactive oxygen species-calcium interplay

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014
    Key points

  • Cholesterol depletion increases reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels in extra- and intracellular space through NAPDH oxidase activation, which is accompanied by synaptic lipid oxidation.

  • ROS production due to extraction of cholesterol involves both an enhancement of synaptic vesicle exocytosis and an increase in cytosolic [Ca2+]i.

  • An ROS-dependent rise in [Ca2+]i is suppressed by inhibitors of the transient receptor potential vanilloid channel and leads to an increase in synaptic vesicle exocytosis.

  • The ROS–calcium pathway might influence synaptic vesicle exocytosis via activation of phosphatase protein 2B (calcineurin).

  • The results help us better understand why a decrease of membrane cholesterol increases spontaneous synaptic vesicle exocytosis.

  • Abstract

    Using electrophysiological and optical techniques, we studied the mechanisms by which cholesterol depletion stimulates spontaneous transmitter release by exocytosis at the frog neuromuscular junction. We found that methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MCD, 10 mm)-mediated exhaustion of cholesterol resulted in the enhancement of reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, which was prevented by the antioxidant N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and the NADPH oxidase inhibitor apocynin. An increase in ROS levels occurred both extra- and intracellularly, and it was associated with lipid peroxidation in synaptic regions. Cholesterol depletion provoked a rise in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration, which was diminished by NAC and transient receptor potential vanilloid (TRPV) channel blockers (ruthenium red and capsazepine). By contrast, the MCD-induced rise in [Ca2+]i remained unaffected if Ca2+ release from endoplasmic stores was blocked by TMB8 (8-(diethylamino)octyl-3,4,5-trimethoxybenzoate hydrochloride). The effects of cholesterol depletion on spontaneous release and exocytosis were significantly reduced by the antioxidant, intracellular Ca2+ chelation with BAPTA-AM and blockers of TRPV channels. Bath application of the calcineurin antagonist cyclosporine A blocked MCD-induced enhancement of spontaneous release/exocytosis, whereas okadaic acid, an inhibitor of phosphatases PP1 and PP2A, had no effect. Thus, our findings indicate that enhancement of spontaneous exocytosis induced by cholesterol depletion may depend on ROS generation, leading to an influx of Ca2+ via TRPV channels and, subsequently, activation of calcineurin.

    Spinal {mu}-opioid receptor-sensitive lower limb muscle afferents determine corticospinal responsiveness and promote central fatigue in upper limb muscle

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014
    Key points

  • We aimed to elucidate the role of group III/IV locomotor muscle afferents in the development of central fatigue and the responsiveness of the corticospinal tract in relation to an unexercised arm muscle.

  • Intrathecal fentanyl, a μ-opioid receptor agonist, was employed to attenuate afferent feedback from the leg muscles during intense cycling exercise characterized by either no or severe peripheral locomotor muscle fatigue.

  • In the absence of locomotor muscle fatigue, group III/IV-mediated leg afferent feedback facilitates the responsiveness of the motor pathway to upper limb flexor muscles.

  • By contrast, in the presence of leg fatigue, group III/IV locomotor muscle afferents facilitate supraspinal fatigue in a remote muscle not involved in the exercise and disfacilitate the responsiveness of associated corticospinal projections.

  • Abstract

    We investigated the influence of group III/IV lower limb muscle afferents on the development of supraspinal fatigue and the responsiveness of corticospinal projections to an arm muscle. Eight males performed constant-load leg cycling exercise (80% peak power output) for 30 s (non-fatiguing) and to exhaustion (~9 min; fatiguing) both under control conditions and with lumbar intrathecal fentanyl impairing feedback from μ-opioid receptor-sensitive lower limb muscle afferents. Voluntary activation (VA) of elbow flexors was assessed via transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) during maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) and corticospinal responsiveness was monitored via TMS-evoked potentials (MEPs) during a 25% MVC. Accompanied by a significant 5 ± 1% reduction in VA from pre- to post-exercise, elbow flexor MVC progressively decreased during the fatiguing trial (P < 0.05). By contrast, with attenuated feedback from locomotor muscle afferents, MVC and VA remained unchanged during fatiguing exercise (P > 0.3). MEPs decreased by 36 ± 6% (P < 0.05) from the start of exercise to exhaustion under control conditions, but this reduction was prevented with fentanyl blockade. Furthermore, fentanyl blockade prevented the significant increase in elbow flexor MEP observed from rest to non-fatiguing exercise under control conditions and resulted in a 14% lower corticospinal responsiveness during this short bout (P < 0.05). Taken together, in the absence of locomotor muscle fatigue, group III/IV-mediated leg muscle afferents facilitate responsiveness of the motor pathway to upper limb flexor muscles. By contrast, in the presence of cycling-induced leg fatigue, group III/IV locomotor muscle afferents facilitate supraspinal fatigue in remote muscle not involved in the exercise and disfacilitate, or inhibit, the responsiveness of corticospinal projections to upper limb muscles.

    Intrinsic and extrinsic cues regulate the daily profile of mouse lateral habenula neuronal activity

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    The epithalamic lateral habenula (LHb) is implicated as part of the mammalian brain's circadian system. Anatomical evidence suggests that the LHb receives extrinsic circadian timing cues from retinal ganglion cells and the master clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). Intriguingly, some LHb neurones contain the molecular circadian clock, but it is unclear if and how intrinsic and extrinsic circadian processes influence neuronal activity in the mouse LHb. Here, using an in vitro brain slice preparation isolating the LHb from the SCN, we show through whole-cell patch-clamp recordings that LHb neurones exhibit heterogeneity in their resting state, but the majority spontaneously fire action potentials (APs). Discharge rate of APs varied from low firing in the early day to higher firing later in the day and was absent in LHb brain slices prepared from Cry1–/–Cry2–/– mice that lack a functional molecular clock. Low amplitude circadian oscillations in the molecular circadian clock were also monitored in LHb brain slices, but were absent in Cry1–/–Cry2–/– LHb brain tissue. A putative neurochemical output signal of the SCN, prokineticin 2 (PK2), inhibited some LHb neurones by elevating the frequency of GABA release in the LHb. Using multi-electrode recordings in vivo, we found that LHb neurones sluggishly respond to retinal illumination, suggesting that they receive such information through polysynaptic processes. In summary, our results show for the first time that intrinsic circadian signals are important for regulating LHb neuronal state, while the SCN-derived signal PK2 is less influential. Moreover, we demonstrate that mouse LHb neurones have access to and can respond to visual input, but such signals are unlikely to be directly communicated to the LHb. Broadly, these findings raise the possibility that intrinsic circadian signals are likely to be influential in shaping LHb contributions to cognition and emotionality.

    Modulation of the input-output function by GABAA receptor-mediated currents in rat oculomotor nucleus motoneurons

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    The neuronal input–output function depends on recruitment threshold and gain of the firing frequency–current (f–I) relationship. These two parameters are positively correlated in ocular motoneurons (MNs) recorded in alert preparation and inhibitory inputs could contribute to this correlation. Phasic inhibition mediated by -amino butyric acid (GABA) occurs when a high concentration of GABA at the synaptic cleft activates postsynaptic GABAA receptors, allowing neuronal information transfer. In some neuronal populations, low concentrations of GABA activate non-synaptic GABAA receptors and generate a tonic inhibition, which modulates cell excitability. This study determined how ambient GABA concentrations modulate the input–output relationship of rat oculomotor nucleus MNs. Superfusion of brain slices with GABA (100 μm) produced a GABAA receptor-mediated current that reduced the input resistance, increased the recruitment threshold and shifted the f–I relationship rightward without any change in gain. These modifications did not depend on MN size. In absence of exogenous GABA, gabazine (20 μm; antagonist of GABAA receptors) abolished spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents and revealed a tonic current in MNs. Gabazine increased input resistance and decreased recruitment threshold mainly in larger MNs. The f–I relationship shifted to the left, without any change in gain. Gabazine effects were chiefly due to MN tonic inhibition because tonic current amplitude was five-fold greater than phasic. This study demonstrates a tonic inhibition in ocular MNs that modulates cell excitability depending on cell size. We suggest that GABAA tonic inhibition acting concurrently with glutamate receptors activation could reproduce the positive covariation between threshold and gain reported in alert preparation.

    Single unit hyperactivity and bursting in the auditory thalamus of awake rats directly correlates with behavioural evidence of tinnitus

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    Tinnitus is an auditory percept without an environmental acoustic correlate. Contemporary tinnitus models hypothesize tinnitus to be a consequence of maladaptive plasticity-induced disturbance of excitation–inhibition homeostasis, possibly convergent on medial geniculate body (MGB, auditory thalamus) and related neuronal networks. The MGB is an obligate acoustic relay in a unique position to gate auditory signals to higher-order auditory and limbic centres. Tinnitus-related maladaptive plastic changes of MGB-related neuronal networks may affect the gating function of MGB and enhance gain in central auditory and non-auditory neuronal networks, resulting in tinnitus. The present study examined the discharge properties of MGB neurons in the sound-exposure gap inhibition animal model of tinnitus. MGB single unit responses were obtained from awake unexposed controls and sound-exposed adult rats with behavioural evidence of tinnitus. MGB units in animals with tinnitus exhibited enhanced spontaneous firing, altered burst properties and increased rate-level function slope when driven by broadband noise and tones at the unit's characteristic frequency. Elevated patterns of neuronal activity and altered bursting showed a significant positive correlation with animals’ tinnitus scores. Altered activity of MGB neurons revealed additional features of auditory system plasticity associated with tinnitus, which may provide a testable assay for future therapeutic and diagnostic development.

    Suprachiasmatic nucleus function and circadian entrainment are modulated by G protein-coupled inwardly rectifying (GIRK) channels

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    G protein signalling within the central circadian oscillator, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), is essential for conveying time-of-day information. We sought to determine whether G protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channels (GIRKs) modulate SCN physiology and circadian behaviour. We show that GIRK current and GIRK2 protein expression are greater during the day. Pharmacological inhibition of GIRKs and genetic loss of GIRK2 depolarized the day-time resting membrane potential of SCN neurons compared to controls. Behaviourally, GIRK2 knockout (KO) mice failed to shorten free running period in response to wheel access in constant darkness and entrained more rapidly to a 6 h advance of a 12 h:12 h light–dark (LD) cycle than wild-type (WT) littermate controls. We next examined whether these effects were due to disrupted signalling of neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is known to mediate non-photic phase shifts, attenuate photic phase shifts and activate GIRKs. Indeed, GIRK2 KO SCN slices had significantly fewer silent cells in response to NPY, likely contributing to the absence of NPY-induced phase advances of PER2::LUC rhythms in organotypic SCN cultures from GIRK2 KO mice. Finally, GIRK channel activation is sufficient to cause a non-photic-like phase advance of PER2::LUC rhythms on a Per2Luc+/– background. These results suggest that rhythmic regulation of GIRK2 protein and channel function in the SCN contributes to day-time resting membrane potential, providing a mechanism for the fine tuning responses to non-photic and photic stimuli. Further investigation could provide insight into disorders with circadian disruption comorbidities such as epilepsy and addiction, in which GIRK channels have been implicated.

    Periaqueductal grey cyclooxygenase-dependent facilitation of C-nociceptive drive and encoding in dorsal horn neurons in the rat

    Journal of Physiology - 15 November 2014

    The experience of pain is strongly affected by descending control systems originating in the brainstem ventrolateral periaqueductal grey (VL-PAG), which control the spinal processing of nociceptive information. A- and C-fibre nociceptors detect noxious stimulation, and have distinct and independent contributions to both the perception of pain quality (fast and slow pain, respectively) and the development of chronic pain. Evidence suggests a separation in the central processing of information arising from A- vs. C-nociceptors; for example, inhibition of the cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1)–prostaglandin system within the VL-PAG alters spinal nociceptive reflexes evoked by C-nociceptor input in vivo via descending pathways, leaving A-nociceptor-evoked reflexes largely unaffected. As the spinal neuronal mechanisms underlying these different responses remain unknown, we determined the effect of inhibition of VL-PAG COX-1 on dorsal horn wide dynamic-range neurons evoked by C- vs. A-nociceptor activation. Inhibition of VL-PAG COX-1 in anaesthetised rats increased firing thresholds of lamina IV–V wide dynamic-range dorsal horn neurons in response to both A- and C-nociceptor stimulation. Importantly, wide dynamic-range dorsal horn neurons continued to faithfully encode A-nociceptive information, even after VL-PAG COX-1 inhibition, whereas the encoding of C-nociceptor information by wide dynamic-range spinal neurons was significantly disrupted. Dorsal horn neurons with stronger C-nociceptor input were affected by COX-1 inhibition to a greater extent than those with weak C-fibre input. These data show that the gain and contrast of C-nociceptive information processed in individual wide dynamic-range dorsal horn neurons is modulated by prostanergic descending control mechanisms in the VL-PAG.

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