The control of retinogeniculate transmission in the mammalian lateral geniculate nucleus

Exp Brain Res. 1986;63(1):1-20. doi: 10.1007/BF00235642.


In the mammalian visual system, the lateral geniculate nucleus is commonly thought to act merely as a relay for the transmission of visual information from the retina to the visual cortex, a relay without significant elaboration in receptive field properties or signal strength. However, many morphological and electrophysiological observations are at odds with this view. Only 10-20% of the synapses found on geniculate relay neurons are retinal in origin. Roughly half of all synapses derive from cells in layer VI of visual cortex; roughly one third are inhibitory and GABAergic, derived either from interneurons or from cells of the nearby perigeniculate nucleus. Most of the remaining synapses probably derive from cholinergic, noradrenergic, and serotonergic sites within the brainstem reticular formation. Moreover, recent biophysical studies have revealed several ionic currents present in virtually all thalamic neurons. One is a Ca2+-dependent K+ current underlying the afterhyperpolarization (or the IAHP), which may last up to 100-200 ms following an action potential. Activation of the IAHP leads to spike frequency adaptation in response to a sustained, suprathreshold input. Intracellular recordings from other neuronal preparations have shown that the IAHP can be blocked by noradrenaline or acetylcholine, leading to an increased cellular excitability. Another ionic current results from a voltage- and time-dependent Ca2+ conductance that produces a low threshold spike. Activation of this conductance transforms a geniculate neuron from a state of faithful relay of information to one of bursting behavior that bears little relationship to the activity of its retinal afferents. We propose that state-dependent gating of geniculate relay cells, which may represent part of the neuronal substrate involved in certain forms of selective visual attention, can be effected through at least three different mechanisms: conventional GABAergic inhibition, which is largely controlled via brainstem and cortical afferents through interneurons and perigeniculate cells; the IAHP, which is controlled via noradrenergic and cholinergic afferents from the brainstem reticular formation; and the low threshold spike, which may be controlled by GABAergic inputs, cholinergic inputs, and/or the corticogeniculate input, although other possibilities also exist. Furthermore, it seems likely that gating functions involving the corticogeniculate pathway are suited to attentional processes within the visual domain (e.g., saccadic suppression), whereas brainstem inputs seem more likely to have more global effects that switch attention between sensory systems.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Brain Stem / anatomy & histology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Cats
  • Efferent Pathways / cytology
  • Geniculate Bodies / cytology
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Potassium / physiology
  • Rats
  • Reticular Formation / anatomy & histology
  • Reticular Formation / physiology
  • Retina / cytology
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Visual Cortex / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / cytology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Potassium
  • Calcium