Functional organization of the thalamic input to the thalamic reticular nucleus

Ying-Wan Lam, S Murray Sherman
Journal of Neuroscience 2011 May 4, 31 (18): 6791-9
Most axons connecting the thalamus and cortex in both directions pass through the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), a thin layer of GABAergic cells adjacent to the thalamus, and innervate neurons there. The TRN, therefore, is in a strategic location to regulate thalamocortical communication. We recorded neurons of the somatosensory region of the TRN in a thalamocortical slice preparation and studied the spatial organization of their thalamic input using laser scanning photostimulation. We show that the thalamoreticular pathway is organized topographically for most neurons. The somatosensory region of the TRN can be organized into three tiers. From the inner (thalamoreticular) border to the outer, in a manner roughly reciprocal to the reticulothalamic pathway, each of these tiers receives its input from one of the somatosensory relays of the thalamus--the posterior medial, ventroposterior medial, and ventroposterior lateral nuclei. What is surprising is that approximately a quarter of the recorded neurons received input from multiple thalamic regions usually located in different nuclei. These neurons distribute evenly throughout the thickness of the TRN. Our results, therefore, suggest that there exist a subpopulation of TRN neurons that receive convergent inputs from multiple thalamic sources and engage in more complex patterns of inhibition of relay cells. We propose these neurons enable the TRN to act as an externally driven "searchlight" that integrates cortical and subcortical inputs and then inhibits or disinhibits specific thalamic relay cells, so that appropriate information can get through the thalamus to the cortex.

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