The infralimbic (IL) cortex is a key node in an inter-connected network involved in fear and emotion processing. The cellular and circuit-level mechanisms whereby IL neurons receive, filter, and modulate incoming signals they project onward to diverse downstream nodes in this complex network remain poorly understood. Using the mouse as our model, we applied anatomical labeling strategies, brain slice electrophysiology, and focal activation of caged glutamate via laser scanning photostimulation (glu-LSPS) for quantitative neurophysiological analysis of projectionally defined neurons in IL. Injection of retrograde tracers into the periaqueductal gray (PAG) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) was used to identify cortico-PAG (CP) and cortico-BLA (CA) neurons in IL. CP neurons were found exclusively in layer 5 (L5) of IL whereas CA neurons were detected throughout layer 2, 3, and 5 of IL. We also identified a small percentage of IL neurons that project to both the PAG and the BLA. We found that L5 CP neurons have a more extensive dendritic structure compared to L5 CA neurons. Neurophysiological recordings performed on retrogradely labeled neurons in acute brain slice showed that CP and CA neurons in IL could be broadly classified in two groups: neuronal resonators and non-resonators. Layer 2 CA neurons were the only class that was exclusively non-resonating. CP, CA, and CP/CA neurons in layers 3 and 5 of IL consisted of heterogeneous populations of resonators and non-resonators showing that projection target is not an exclusive predictor of intrinsic physiology. Circuit mapping using glu-LSPS revealed that the strength and organization of local excitatory and inhibitory inputs were stronger to CP compared to CA neurons in IL. Together, our results establish an organizational scheme linking cellular neurophysiology with microcircuit parameters of defined neuronal subclasses in IL that send descending commands to subcortical structures involved in fear behavior.
Keywords: basolateral amygdala; circuit mapping; cortico-PAG neurons; cortico-amygdalar neurons; infralimbic cortex; periaqueductal gray; retrograde labeling; slice electrophysiology.