Background: The basal forebrain is a series of nuclei that provides cholinergic input to much of the forebrain. The most posterior of these nuclei, nucleus basalis, provides cholinergic drive to neocortex and is involved in arousal and attention. The physiological properties of neurons in anterior basal forebrain nuclei, including medial septum, the diagonal band of Broca and substantia innominata, have been described previously. In contrast the physiological properties of neurons in nucleus basalis, the most posterior nucleus of the basal forebrain, are unknown.
Methodology/principal findings: Here we investigate the physiological properties of neurons in adult mouse nucleus basalis. We obtained cell-attached and whole-cell recordings from magnocellular neurons in slices from P42-54 mice and compared cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons, distinguished retrospectively by anti-choline acetyltransferase immunocytochemistry. The majority (70-80%) of cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons were silent at rest. Spontaneously active cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons exhibited irregular spiking at 3 Hz and at 0.3 to 13.4 Hz, respectively. Cholinergic neurons had smaller, broader action potentials than non-cholinergic neurons (amplitudes 64+/-3.4 and 75+/-2 mV; half widths 0.52+/-0.04 and 0.33+/-0.02 ms). Cholinergic neurons displayed a more pronounced slow after-hyperpolarization than non-cholinergic neurons (13.3+/-2.2 and 3.6+/-0.5 mV) and were unable to spike at high frequencies during tonic current injection (maximum frequencies of approximately 20 Hz and >120 Hz).
Conclusions/significance: Our results indicate that neurons in nucleus basalis share similar physiological properties with neurons in anterior regions of the basal forebrain. Furthermore, cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons in nucleus basalis can be distinguished by their responses to injected current. To our knowledge, this is the first description of the physiological properties of cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons in the posterior aspects of the basal forebrain complex and the first study of basal forebrain neurons from the mouse.