Synaptic Contributions to Receptive Field Structure and Response Properties in the Rodent Lateral Geniculate Nucleus of the Thalamus

J Neurosci. 2016 Oct 26;36(43):10949-10963. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1045-16.2016.


Comparative physiological and anatomical studies have greatly advanced our understanding of sensory systems. Many lines of evidence show that the murine lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) has unique attributes, compared with other species such as cat and monkey. For example, in rodent, thalamic receptive field structure is markedly diverse, and many cells are sensitive to stimulus orientation and direction. To explore shared and different strategies of synaptic integration across species, we made whole-cell recordings in vivo from the murine LGN during the presentation of visual stimuli, analyzed the results with different computational approaches, and compared our findings with those from cat. As for carnivores, murine cells with classical center-surround receptive fields had a "push-pull" structure of excitation and inhibition within a given On or Off subregion. These cells compose the largest single population in the murine LGN (∼40%), indicating that push-pull is key in the form vision pathway across species. For two cell types with overlapping On and Off responses, which recalled either W3 or suppressed-by-contrast ganglion cells in murine retina, inhibition took a different form and was most pronounced for spatially extensive stimuli. Other On-Off cells were selective for stimulus orientation and direction. In these cases, retinal inputs were tuned and, for oriented cells, the second-order subunit of the receptive field predicted the preferred angle. By contrast, suppression was not tuned and appeared to sharpen stimulus selectivity. Together, our results provide new perspectives on the role of excitation and inhibition in retinothalamic processing.

Significance statement: We explored the murine lateral geniculate nucleus from a comparative physiological perspective. In cat, most retinal cells have center-surround receptive fields and push-pull excitation and inhibition, including neurons with the smallest (highest acuity) receptive fields. The same is true for thalamic relay cells. In mouse retina, the most numerous cell type has the smallest receptive fields but lacks push-pull. The most common receptive field in rodent thalamus, however, is center-surround with push-pull. Thus, receptive field structure supersedes size per se for form vision. Further, for many orientation-selective cells, the second-order component of the receptive field aligned with stimulus preference, whereas suppression was untuned. Thus, inhibition may improve spatial resolution and sharpen other forms of selectivity in rodent lateral geniculate nucleus.

Keywords: LGN; in vivo; inhibition; relay cell; whole-cell.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cats
  • Female
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology
  • Species Specificity
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*