Distinct excitability of thalamocortical neurons correlates with the presence of cerebellar afferents

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Abstract

Thalamocortical (TC) neurons within the ventrolateral thalamus (VL) receive projections from the cerebellum and the basal ganglia (BG) to facilitate motor and non-motor functions. Tonic and rebound firing patterns in response to excitatory cerebellar and inhibitory BG inputs, respectively, are a canonical feature of TC neurons and plays a key role in signal processing. The intrinsic excitability of TC neurons has a strong influence on how they respond to synaptic inputs, however, it is unknown whether their afferents influence their firing properties. Understanding the input-specific firing patterns could shed light into movement disorders with cerebellar or BG involvement. Here, we used whole-cell electrophysiology in brain slices from C57BL/6 mice to investigate the firing of TC neurons with optogenetic confirmation of cerebellar or BG afferents. TC neurons with cerebellar afferents exhibited higher tonic and rebound firing rates than those with BG afferents. This increased firing was associated with faster action potential depolarization kinetics and a smaller afterhyperpolarization potential. We also found differences in the passive membrane properties and sag currents during hyperpolarization. Despite higher rebound firing in TC neurons with cerebellar afferents, there were no differences in T-type calcium channel function compared to those with BG inputs. These data suggest input-specific differences in sodium and SK, but not T-type calcium channels, impact firing properties in TC populations. Altogether, we showed that the pronounced divergence observed in TC neuron firing properties correlate with its heterogeneous anatomical connectivity, which could signify a distinct signal integration and processing by these neurons.

Keypoints

  • Thalamocortical neurons in the VL with cerebellar afferents have higher intrinsic tonic and rebound firing properties than those with basal ganglia afferents.

  • Membrane resistance and action potential depolarization slope were different based on the presence of cerebellar afferents.

  • Despite elevated rebound burst firing, T-type mediated currents did not correlate with increased firing in neurons with cerebellar afferents.

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