High responsiveness and direction sensitivity of neurons in the rat thalamic reticular nucleus to vibrissa deflections

J Neurophysiol. 2000 May;83(5):2791-801. doi: 10.1152/jn.2000.83.5.2791.


The thalamic reticular nucleus (Rt) is strategically positioned to integrate descending and ascending signals in the control of sensorimotor and other thalamocortical activity. Its prominent role in the generation of sleep spindles notwithstanding, relatively little is known of Rt function in regulating interactions with the sensory environment. We recorded and compared the responses of individual Rt and thalamocortical neurons in the ventroposterior medial (VPm) nucleus of the rat to controlled deflections of mystacial vibrissae. Transient Rt responses to the onset (ON) and offset (OFF) of vibrissa deflection are larger and longer in duration than those of VPm and of all other populations studied in the whisker/barrel pathway. Magnitudes of ON and OFF responses in Rt were negatively correlated with immediately preceding activities, suggesting a contribution of low-threshold T-type Ca(2+) channels. Rt neurons also respond with high tonic firing rates during sustained vibrissa deflections. By comparison, VPm neurons are less likely to respond tonically and are more likely to exhibit tonic suppression. Rt and VPm populations are similar to each other, however, in that they retain properties of directional sensitivity established in primary afferent neurons. In both populations neurons are selective for deflection angle and exhibit directional consistency, responding best to a particular direction of movement regardless of the starting position of the vibrissal hair. These findings suggest a role for Rt in the processing of detailed sensory information. Temporally, Rt may function to limit the duration of stimulus-evoked VPm responses and to focus them on rapid vibrissa perturbations. Moreover, by regulating the baseline activity of VPm neurons, Rt may indirectly enhance the response selectivity of layer IV barrel neurons to synchronous VPm firing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels, T-Type / physiology
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / cytology
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Vibrissae / innervation
  • Vibrissae / physiology*


  • Calcium Channels, T-Type