Electroresponsive properties of rat central medial thalamic neurons

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Mar;115(3):1533-41. doi: 10.1152/jn.00982.2015. Epub 2016 Jan 13.


The central medial thalamic (CMT) nucleus is a poorly known component of the middle thalamic complex that relays nociceptive inputs to the basolateral amygdala and cingulate cortex and plays a critical role in the control of awareness. The present study was undertaken to characterize the electroresponsive properties of CMT neurons. Similar to relay neurons found throughout the dorsal thalamus, CMT cells assumed tonic or burst-firing modes, depending on their membrane potentials (Vm). However, they showed little evidence of the hyperpolarization-activated mixed cationic conductance (IH)-mediated inward rectification usually displayed by dorsal thalamic relay cells at hyperpolarized Vm Two subtypes of CMT neurons were identified when comparing their responses with depolarization applied from negative potentials. Some cells generated a low-threshold spike burst followed by tonic firing, whereas others remained silent after the initial burst, irrespective of the amount of depolarizing current injected. Equal proportions of the two cell types were found among neurons retrogradely labeled from the basolateral amygdala. Their morphological properties were heterogeneous but distinct from the classical bushy relay cell type that prevails in most of the dorsal thalamus. We propose that the marginal influence of IHin CMT relative to other dorsal thalamic nuclei has significant network-level consequences. Because IHpromotes the genesis of highly coherent delta oscillations in thalamocortical networks during sleep, these oscillations may be weaker or less coherent in CMT. Consequently, delta oscillations would be more easily disrupted by peripheral inputs, providing a potential mechanism for the reported role of CMT in eliciting arousal from sleep or anesthesia.

Keywords: amygdala; bursting; defensive behaviors; pain; thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials*
  • Animals
  • Delta Rhythm
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / cytology
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Sleep