Thalamocortical response transformation in the rat vibrissa/barrel system

J Neurophysiol. 1989 Feb;61(2):311-30. doi: 10.1152/jn.1989.61.2.311.


1. Extracellular single-unit recordings and controlled whisker stimuli were used to compare response properties between cells in the "barreloids" of the thalamic ventrobasal complex and those in the cytochrome oxidase-rich centers of the "barrels" in the first somatic sensory cortex. Individual vibrissae were deflected alone or in paired combination involving the neuron's maximally excitatory whisker and an adjacent one in the same or neighboring whisker rows. Quantitative data were derived from 135 thalamocortical unit's (TCUs), 242 "regular-spike" barrel units (RSUs), and 16 "fast-spike" barrel units (FSUs) recorded in 26 normal adult rats. 2. Compared with TCUs, RSUs displayed lower rates of spontaneous activity and responded less vigorously to whisker stimuli. Proportionally, more than twice as many TCUs as RSUs responded in slowly adapting fashion to at least one angular direction of whisker displacement. Discharges of slowly adapting TCUs were approximately 3.5 times greater than those of slowly adapting RSUs. 3. Proportionally, about twice as many TCUs than RSUs responded selectively to whisker movements in different angular directions. 4. Cells in the thalamus responded more vigorously to a larger number of whiskers than RSUs in the cortex. Depending on the stimulus conditions, two to three times more TCUs than RSUs were excited by two or more whiskers. 5. Following displacement of an adjacent whisker, unit discharges to subsequent deflections of the maximally excitatory whisker were reduced in a time-dependent fashion. The time course of response suppression was similar in TCUs and RSUs, but inhibitory interactions between adjacent whiskers were observed much less often in the thalamus. A cyclic pattern of stimulus-evoked excitation/inhibition characterizes responses in the cortical barrels but is considerably less pronounced in the thalamic barreloids. 6. The presence and/or degree of response suppression depended on which adjacent whisker was stimulated and on the angular direction of that whisker's movement. For individual TCUs, some adjacent whiskers evoked inhibition, others did not. The vast majority of RSUs displayed response suppression to all adjacent whiskers. Unlike receptive fields of TCUs, those of RSUs have small--i.e., single-whisker--excitatory centers with potent and symmetrical inhibitory surrounds. 7. Fast-spike units in the barrels displayed the greatest spontaneous and stimulus-evoked activities and were the least selective for whisker movements at different angular directions. FSUs had the largest excitatory receptive fields; 100% responded to two or more vibrissae.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Thalamus / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vibrissae / physiology*