Destruction and creation of spatial tuning by disinhibition: GABA(A) blockade of prefrontal cortical neurons engaged by working memory

J Neurosci. 2000 Jan 1;20(1):485-94. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.20-01-00485.2000.


Local circuit neurons in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dPFC) of monkeys have been implicated in the cellular basis of working memory. To further elucidate the role of inhibition in spatial tuning, we iontophoresed bicuculline methiodide (BMI) onto functionally characterized neurons in the dPFC of monkeys performing an oculomotor delayed response task. This GABA(A) blockade revealed that both putative interneurons and pyramidal cells possess significant inhibitory tone in the awake, behaving monkey. In addition, BMI application primarily resulted in the loss of previously extant spatial tuning in both cell types through reduction of both isodirectional and cross-directional inhibition. This tuning loss occurred in both the sensorimotor and mnemonic phases of the task, although the delay activity of prefrontal neurons appeared to be particularly affected. Finally, application of BMI also created significant spatial tuning in a sizable minority of units that were untuned in the control condition. Visual field analysis of such tuning suggests that it is likely caused by the unmasking of normally suppressed spatially tuned excitatory input. These findings provide the first direct evidence of directional inhibitory modulation of pyramidal cell and interneuron firing in both the mnemonic and sensorimotor phases of the working memory process, and they implicate a further role for GABAergic interneurons in the construction of spatial tuning in prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*


  • GABA Antagonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Bicuculline