In adult mice, classical conditioning in which whisker stimulation is paired with an electric shock to the tail results in a decrease in the frequency of head movements, induces expansion of the cortical representation of stimulated vibrissae and enhances inhibitory synaptic interactions within the 'trained' barrels. We investigated whether such a simple associative learning paradigm also induced changes in neuronal excitability. Using whole-cell recordings from ex vivo slices of the barrel cortex we found that layer IV excitatory cells located in the cortical representation of the 'trained' row of vibrissae had a higher frequency of spikes recorded at threshold potential than neurons from the 'untrained' row and than cells from control animals. Additionally, excitatory cells within the 'trained' barrels were characterized by increased gain of the input-output function, lower amplitudes of fast after-hyperpolarization and decreased effect of blocking of BK channels by iberiotoxin. These findings provide new insight into the possible mechanism for enhanced intrinsic excitability of layer IV excitatory neurons. In contrast, the fast spiking inhibitory cells recorded in the same barrels did not change their intrinsic excitability after the conditioning procedure. The increased excitability of excitatory neurons within the 'trained' barrels may represent the counterpart of homeostatic plasticity, which parallels enhanced synaptic inhibition described previously. Together, the two mechanisms would contribute to increase the input selectivity within the conditioned cortical network.
© 2010 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2010 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.