Cholinergic stimulation of the cerebral cortex is essential for tasks requiring attention; however, there is still some debate over which cortical regions are required for such tasks. There is extensive cholinergic innervation of both primary and associative cortices, and transient release of acetylcholine (ACh) is detected in deep layers of the relevant primary and/or associative cortex, depending on the nature of the attention task. Here, we investigated the electrophysiological effects of ACh in layer VI, the deepest layer, of the primary somatosensory cortex, the primary motor cortex, and the associative medial prefrontal cortex. Layer VI pyramidal neurons are a major source of top-down modulation of attention, and we found that the strength and homogeneity of their direct cholinergic excitation was region-specific. On average, neurons in the primary cortical regions showed weaker responses to ACh, mediated by a balance of contributions from both nicotinic and muscarinic ACh receptors. Conversely, neurons in the associative medial prefrontal cortex showed significantly stronger excitation by ACh, mediated predominantly by nicotinic receptors. The greatest diversity of responses to ACh was found in the primary somatosensory cortex, with only a subset of neurons showing nicotinic excitation. In a mouse model with attention deficits only under demanding conditions, cholinergic excitation was preserved in primary cortical regions but not in the associative medial prefrontal cortex. These findings demonstrate that the effect of ACh is not uniform throughout the cortex, and suggest that its ability to enhance attention performance may involve different cellular mechanisms across cortical regions.
Keywords: Chrna5; acetylcholine; attention; mouse; muscarinic; nicotinic.
© 2014 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.