The Input-Output Relationship of the Cholinergic Basal Forebrain

Cell Rep. 2017 Feb 14;18(7):1817-1830. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.01.060.


Basal forebrain cholinergic neurons influence cortical state, plasticity, learning, and attention. They collectively innervate the entire cerebral cortex, differentially controlling acetylcholine efflux across different cortical areas and timescales. Such control might be achieved by differential inputs driving separable cholinergic outputs, although no input-output relationship on a brain-wide level has ever been demonstrated. Here, we identify input neurons to cholinergic cells projecting to specific cortical regions by infecting cholinergic axon terminals with a monosynaptically restricted viral tracer. This approach revealed several circuit motifs, such as central amygdala neurons synapsing onto basolateral amygdala-projecting cholinergic neurons or strong somatosensory cortical input to motor cortex-projecting cholinergic neurons. The presence of input cells in the parasympathetic midbrain nuclei contacting frontally projecting cholinergic neurons suggest that the network regulating the inner eye muscles are additionally regulating cortical state via acetylcholine efflux. This dataset enables future circuit-level experiments to identify drivers of known cortical cholinergic functions.

Keywords: ChAT-cre; acetylcholine; basal forebrain; basalocortical; cholinergic; connectome; monosynaptic; rabies; rat; transgenic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism
  • Axons / physiology
  • Basal Forebrain / physiology*
  • Cholinergic Agents / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Rats


  • Cholinergic Agents
  • Acetylcholine