Inter- and intralaminar subcircuits of excitatory and inhibitory neurons in layer 6a of the rat barrel cortex

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Oct;100(4):1909-22. doi: 10.1152/jn.90684.2008. Epub 2008 Jul 23.


Approximately half the excitatory neurons in layer 6 (L6) of the rat barrel cortex project to the thalamus with axon collaterals ramifying in the granular L4; the remaining project within cortex with collaterals restricted to infragranular laminae. In analogy, L6 inhibitory neurons also include locally arborizing and inter-laminar projecting neurons. We examined whether L6 neurons participating in different laminar interactions were also morphologically and electrically distinct. Corticothalamic (CT) neurons were labeled by in vivo injections of a retrogradely transported fluorescent tracer into the primary thalamic nucleus. Whole cell current-clamp recordings were performed from labeled and unlabeled L6 neurons in brain slices of juvenile rats; the morphology of cells was subsequently recovered and reconstructed. Corticocortical (CC) neurons were distinguished from CT cells based on the absence of a subcortical projection and the predominantly infragranular arborization of their axon collaterals. Two morphological CC subtypes could be further distinguished based on the structure of their apical dendrite. Electrically, CT neurons had shorter membrane time-constants and action potential (AP) durations and higher rheobase currents. CC neurons fired high-frequency spike doublets or triplets on sustained depolarization; the burst frequency also distinguished the two morphological CC subtypes. Among inhibitory L6 cells, the L4-projecting (L6iL4) and local (L6iL6) inhibitory neurons also had contrasting firing properties; L6iL4 neurons had broader APs and lower maximal firing rates. We propose that L6 excitatory and inhibitory neurons projecting to L4 constitute specialized subcircuits distinct from the infragranular network in their connectivity and firing patterns.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Thalamus / cytology
  • Thalamus / physiology