A functional role of cholinergic innervation to neurons in the cat visual cortex

J Neurophysiol. 1987 Oct;58(4):765-80. doi: 10.1152/jn.1987.58.4.765.


1. Effects of microionophoretic application of acetylcholine (ACh) and its antagonists on neuronal responses to visual stimuli and to electrical stimulation of the lateral geniculate nucleus were studied in the cat striate cortex. 2. Responses elicited visually and electrically were facilitated by ACh in 74% of the cells tested, whereas the responses were suppressed in 16%. These ACh effects were blocked by a muscarinic antagonist, atropine, but not by a nicotinic antagonist, hexamethonium, indicating that the ACh effects are mediated through muscarinic receptors. A single application of atropine suppressed visual responses of cells facilitated by ACh, whereas it enhanced those of cells inhibited by ACh, suggesting that endogenous ACh may tonically modulate visual responsivity of cortical neurons. 3. In most cells with the facilitatory ACh effect, responses with single spikes to the electrical stimulation became more consistent, often with double spikes, during the ACh application. The suppressive effects of ACh were noted most often in cells with a longer response latency to electrical stimulation of lateral geniculate nucleus. 4. In most of the facilitated cells the spontaneous activity remained null or very low during ACh application, in spite of marked enhancement of visual responses, suggesting that ACh may improve the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) of cortical neuron activity. To confirm this suggestion, we calculated a S/S + N index by counting the total number of spikes in the responses (S) and that in peristimulus time histogram (S + N) and found that it was improved during the ACh application in about a half of the cells, whereas it became worse in about one-fifth. 5. In most of the facilitated cells, ACh enhanced visual responses not only to optimal but also to nonoptimal stimuli, resulting in no improvement or even worsening of the orientation selectivity. This was also the case in the selectivity of direction of stimulus movement. 6. The laminar location of the facilitated cells was biased toward layers V and VI of the cortex, although they also made up the majority in layers II + III and about half the tested cells in layers IVab and IVc. 7. In the light of recent understanding of cortical circuitry, these results suggest that the cholinergic innervation to cortical neurons may play a role in improvement of the S/N ratio of information processing in the striate cortex and in facilitation of sending processed informations to other visual centers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Atropine / pharmacology
  • Cats
  • Cholinergic Fibers / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Cortex / drug effects
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*


  • Atropine
  • Acetylcholine