Layer 1 of the neocortex is sparsely populated with neurons and heavily innervated by fibers from lower layers and proximal and distal brain regions. Understanding the potential functions of this layer requires a comprehensive understanding of its cellular and synaptic organization. We therefore performed a quantitative study of the microcircuitry of neocortical layer 1 (L1) in the somatosensory cortex in juvenile rats (P13-P16) using multi-neuron patch-clamp and 3D morphology reconstructions. Expert-based subjective classification of the morphologies of the recorded L1 neurons suggest 6 morphological classes: (1) the Neurogliaform cells with dense axonal arborizations (NGC-DA) and with sparse arborizations (NGC-SA), (2) the Horizontal Axon Cell (HAC), (3) those with descending axonal collaterals (DAC), (4) the large axon cell (LAC), and (5) the small axon cell (SAC). Objective, supervised and unsupervised cluster analyses confirmed DAC, HAC, LAC and NGC as distinct morphological classes. The neurons were also classified into 5 electrophysiological types based on the Petilla convention; classical non-adapting (cNAC), burst non-adapting (bNAC), classical adapting (cAC), classical stuttering (cSTUT), and classical irregular spiking (cIR). The most common electrophysiological type of neuron was the cNAC type (40%) and the most common morpho-electrical type was the NGC-DA-cNAC. Paired patch-clamp recordings revealed that the neurons were connected via GABAergic inhibitory synaptic connections with a 7.9% connection probability and via gap junctions with a 5.2% connection probability. Most synaptic connections were mediated by both GABAA and GABAB receptors (62.6%). A smaller fraction of synaptic connections were mediated exclusively by GABAA (15.4%) or GABAB (21.8%) receptors. Morphological 3D reconstruction of synaptic connected pairs of L1 neurons revealed multi-synapse connections with an average of 9 putative synapses per connection. These putative synapses were widely distributed with 39% on somata and 61% on dendrites. We also discuss the functional implications of this L1 cellular and synaptic organization in neocortical information processing.
Keywords: gaba receptors; inhibition; interneurons; layer 1; neocortical circuits.