Sensory perception depends on neocortical computations that contextually adjust sensory signals in different internal and environmental contexts. Neocortical layer 1 (L1) is the main target of cortical and subcortical inputs that provide "top-down" information for context-dependent sensory processing. Although L1 is devoid of excitatory cells, it contains the distal "tuft" dendrites of pyramidal cells (PCs) located in deeper layers. L1 also contains a poorly characterized population of GABAergic interneurons (INs), which regulate the impact that different top-down inputs have on PCs. A poor comprehension of L1 IN subtypes and how they affect PC activity has hampered our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie contextual modulation of sensory processing. We used novel genetic strategies in male and female mice combined with electrophysiological and morphological methods to help resolve differences that were unclear when using only electrophysiological and/or morphological approaches. We discovered that L1 contains four distinct populations of INs, each with a unique molecular profile, morphology, and electrophysiology, including a previously overlooked IN population (named here "canopy cells") representing 40% of L1 INs. In contrast to what is observed in other layers, most L1 neurons appear to be unique to the layer, highlighting the specialized character of the signal processing that takes place in L1. This new understanding of INs in L1, as well as the application of genetic methods based on the markers described here, will enable investigation of the cellular and circuit mechanisms of top-down processing in L1 with unprecedented detail.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Neocortical layer 1 (L1) is the main target of corticocortical and subcortical projections that mediate top-down or context-dependent sensory perception. However, this unique layer is often referred to as "enigmatic" because its neuronal composition has been difficult to determine. Using a combination of genetic, electrophysiological, and morphological approaches that helped to resolve differences that were unclear when using a single approach, we were able to decipher the neuronal composition of L1. We identified markers that distinguish L1 neurons and found that the layer contains four populations of GABAergic interneurons, each with unique molecular profiles, morphologies, and electrophysiological properties. These findings provide a new framework for studying the circuit mechanisms underlying the processing of top-down inputs in neocortical L1.
Keywords: barrel cortex; interneurons; layer 1; neocortex; top-down modulation.
Copyright © 2019 the authors 0270-6474/19/390125-15$15.00/0.