Serotonin modulation of cortical neurons and networks

Front Integr Neurosci. 2013 Apr 19;7:25. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2013.00025. eCollection 2013.


The serotonergic pathways originating in the dorsal and median raphe nuclei (DR and MnR, respectively) are critically involved in cortical function. Serotonin (5-HT), acting on postsynaptic and presynaptic receptors, is involved in cognition, mood, impulse control and motor functions by (1) modulating the activity of different neuronal types, and (2) varying the release of other neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, GABA, acetylcholine and dopamine. Also, 5-HT seems to play an important role in cortical development. Of all cortical regions, the frontal lobe is the area most enriched in serotonergic axons and 5-HT receptors. 5-HT and selective receptor agonists modulate the excitability of cortical neurons and their discharge rate through the activation of several receptor subtypes, of which the 5-HT1A, 5-HT1B, 5-HT2A, and 5-HT3 subtypes play a major role. Little is known, however, on the role of other excitatory receptors moderately expressed in cortical areas, such as 5-HT2C, 5-HT4, 5-HT6, and 5-HT7. In vitro and in vivo studies suggest that 5-HT1A and 5-HT2A receptors are key players and exert opposite effects on the activity of pyramidal neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The activation of 5-HT1A receptors in mPFC hyperpolarizes pyramidal neurons whereas that of 5-HT2A receptors results in neuronal depolarization, reduction of the afterhyperpolarization and increase of excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) and of discharge rate. 5-HT can also stimulate excitatory (5-HT2A and 5-HT3) and inhibitory (5-HT1A) receptors in GABA interneurons to modulate synaptic GABA inputs onto pyramidal neurons. Likewise, the pharmacological manipulation of various 5-HT receptors alters oscillatory activity in PFC, suggesting that 5-HT is also involved in the control of cortical network activity. A better understanding of the actions of 5-HT in PFC may help to develop treatments for mood and cognitive disorders associated with an abnormal function of the frontal lobe.

Keywords: 5-hydroxytryptamine or serotonin; GABAergic interneurons; dorsal raphe nucleus; electrophysiological recordings; oscillatory activity; prefrontal cortex; pyramidal neurons; serotonin receptors.