Anatomical and electrophysiological analysis of cholinergic inputs from the parabigeminal nucleus to the superficial superior colliculus

J Neurophysiol. 2020 Dec 1;124(6):1968-1985. doi: 10.1152/jn.00148.2020. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


Superior colliculus (SC) is a midbrain structure that integrates sensory inputs and generates motor commands to initiate innate motor behaviors. Its retinorecipient superficial layers (sSC) receive dense cholinergic projections from the parabigeminal nucleus (PBN). Our previous in vitro study revealed that acetylcholine induces fast inward current followed by prominent GABAergic inhibition within the sSC circuits (Endo T, Yanagawa Y, Obata K, Isa T. J Neurophysiol 94: 3893-3902, 2005). Acetylcholine-mediated facilitation of GABAergic inhibition may play an important role in visual signal processing in the sSC; however, both the anatomical and physiological properties of cholinergic inputs from PBN have not been studied in detail in vivo. In this study, we specifically visualized and optogenetically manipulated the cholinergic neurons in the PBN after focal injections of Cre-dependent viral vectors in mice that express Cre in cholinergic neurons. We revealed that the cholinergic projections terminated densely in the medial part of the mouse sSC. This suggests that the cholinergic inputs mediate visual processing in the upper visual field, which would be critical for predator detection. We further analyzed the physiological roles of the cholinergic inputs by recording looming-evoked visual responses from sSC neurons during optogenetic activation or inactivation of PBN cholinergic neurons in anesthetized mice. We found that optogenetic manipulations in either direction induced response suppression in most neurons, whereas response facilitation was observed in a few neurons after the optogenetic activation. These results support a circuit model that suggests that the PBN cholinergic inputs enhance functions of the sSC in detecting visual targets by facilitating the center excitation-surround inhibition.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The modulatory role of the cholinergic inputs from the parabigeminal nucleus in the visual responses in the superficial superior colliculus (sSC) remains unknown. Here we report that the cholinergic projections terminate densely in the medial sSC and optogenetic manipulations of the cholinergic inputs affect the looming-evoked response and enhance surround inhibition in the sSC. Our data suggest that cholinergic inputs to the sSC contribute to the visual detection of predators.

Keywords: cholinergic modulation; optogenetics; parabigeminal nucleus; subcortical visual system; superior colliculus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Optogenetics
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology
  • Tectum Mesencephali / physiology*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*