Properties of primary sensory (lemniscal) synapses in the ventrobasal thalamus and the relay of high-frequency sensory inputs

J Neurophysiol. 2002 Feb;87(2):946-53. doi: 10.1152/jn.00426.2001.


The main role of the thalamus is to relay sensory inputs to the neocortex. In the primary somatosensory thalamus (ventrobasal thalamus), sensory inputs deliver tactile information through the medial lemniscus tract. The transmission of sensory information through this pathway is affected by behavioral state. For instance, the relay of high-frequency somatosensory inputs through the thalamus is suppressed during anesthesia or quiescent states but allowed during behaviorally activated states. This change may be due to the effects of modulators on the efficacy of lemniscal synapses. Here I show that lemniscal synapses of adult rodents studied in vitro produce large amplitude-highly secure unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs), which depress in response to repetitive stimulation at frequencies >2 Hz. Acetylcholine and norepinephrine, which are important thalamic modulators, have no effect on the efficacy of lemniscal EPSPs but reduce evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and corticothalamic EPSPs. Although acetylcholine and norepinephrine do not affect lemniscal synapses, the postsynaptic depolarization they produce on thalamocortical neurons serves to warrant the relay of lemniscal inputs at high-frequency rates by bringing the depressed lemniscal EPSPs close to firing threshold. In conclusion, acetylcholine and norepinephrine released during activated states selectively enhance sensory transmission through the lemniscal pathway by depolarizing thalamocortical neurons and simultaneously depressing the other afferent pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Norepinephrine / pharmacology
  • Sympathomimetics / pharmacology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / cytology*
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*


  • Sympathomimetics
  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine