Mechanisms of decreased cholinergic arousal in focal seizures: In vivo whole-cell recordings from the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus

Exp Neurol. 2019 Apr:314:74-81. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2018.11.008. Epub 2018 Dec 10.


Focal limbic seizures often impair consciousness/awareness with major negative impact on quality of life. Recent work has shown that limbic seizures depress brainstem arousal systems, including reduced action potential firing in a key node: cholinergic neurons of the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPT). In vivo whole-cell recordings have not previously been achieved in PPT, but are used here with the goal of elucidating the mechanisms of reduced PPT cholinergic neuronal activity. An established model of focal limbic seizures was used in rats following brief hippocampal stimulation under light anesthesia. Whole-cell in vivo recordings were obtained from PPT neurons using custom-fabricated 9-10 mm tapered patch pipettes, and cholinergic neurons were identified histologically. Average membrane potential, input resistance, membrane potential fluctuations and variance were analyzed during seizures. A subset of PPT neurons exhibited reduced firing and hyperpolarization during seizures and stained positive for choline acetyltransferase. These PPT neurons showed a mean membrane potential hyperpolarization of -3.82 mV (±0.81 SEM, P < .05) during seizures, and also showed significantly increased input resistance, fewer excitatory post-synaptic potential (EPSP)-like events (P < .05), and reduced membrane potential variance (P < .01). The combination of increased input resistance, decreased EPSP-like events and decreased variance weigh against active ictal inhibition and support withdrawal of excitatory input as the dominant mechanism of decreased activity of cholinergic neurons in the PPT. Further identifying synaptic mechanisms of depressed arousal during seizures may lead to new treatments to improve ictal and postictal cognition.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Epilepsies, Partial / physiopathology*
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Female
  • Hippocampus
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Neurons
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pedunculopontine Tegmental Nucleus / physiopathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Seizures / physiopathology*


  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase