Synaptic targets of thalamic reticular nucleus terminals in the visual thalamus of the cat

S Wang, M E Bickford, S C Van Horn, A Erisir, D W Godwin, S M Sherman
Journal of Comparative Neurology 2001 November 26, 440 (4): 321-41
A major inhibitory input to the dorsal thalamus arises from neurons in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), which use gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as a neurotransmitter. We examined the synaptic targets of TRN terminals in the visual thalamus, including the A lamina of the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), the medial interlaminar nucleus (MIN), the lateral posterior nucleus (LP), and the pulvinar nucleus (PUL). To identify TRN terminals, we injected biocytin into the visual sector of the TRN to label terminals by anterograde transport. We then used postembedding immunocytochemical staining for GABA to distinguish TRN terminals as biocytin-labeled GABA-positive terminals and to distinguish the postsynaptic targets of TRN terminals as GABA-negative thalamocortical cells or GABA-positive interneurons. We found that, in all nuclei, the TRN provides GABAergic input primarily to thalamocortical relay cells (93-100%). Most of this input seems targeted to peripheral dendrites outside of glomeruli. The TRN does not appear to be a significant source of GABAergic input to interneurons in the visual thalamus. We also examined the synaptic targets of the overall population of GABAergic axon terminals (F1 profiles) within these same regions of the visual thalamus and found that the TRN contacts cannot account for all F1 profiles. In addition to F1 contacts on the dendrites of thalamocortical cells, which presumably include TRN terminals, another population of F1 profiles, most likely interneuron axons, provides input to GABAergic interneuron dendrites. Our results suggest that the TRN terminals are ideally situated to modulate thalamocortical transmission by controlling the response mode of thalamocortical cells.

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