Despite the importance and significant clinical impact of understanding information processing in the nociceptive system, the functional properties of neurons in many parts of this system are still unknown. In this work we performed whole cell patch-clamp recording in rat brain stem blocks to characterize the electrophysiological properties of neurons in the dorsal reticular nucleus (DRt), a region known to be involved in pronociceptive modulation. We also compared properties of DRt neurons with those in the adjacent parvicellular reticular nucleus and in neighboring regions outside the reticular formation. We found that neurons in the DRt and parvicellular reticular nucleus had similar electrophysiological properties and exhibited mostly toniclike firing patterns, whereas neurons outside the reticular formation showed a larger diversity of firing patterns. Interestingly, more than one-half of the neurons also showed spontaneous activity. While the general view of the reticular formation, being a loosely associated mesh of groups of neurons with diverse function, and earlier reports suggests more electrophysiological heterogeneity, we showed that this is indeed not the case. Our results indicate that functional difference of neurons in the reticular formation may mostly be determined by their connectivity profiles and not by their intrinsic electrophysiological properties. The dominance of tonic neurons in the DRt supports previous conclusions that these neurons encode stimulus intensity through their firing frequency, while the high prevalence of spontaneous activity most likely shapes nociceptive modulation by this brain stem region.
Keywords: dorsal reticular nucleus; pronociception; spontaneous activity; tonic activity; whole cell patch-clamp.