High-order thalamic inputs to primary somatosensory cortex are stronger and longer lasting than cortical inputs.
Zhang W., Bruno RM.
Layer (L) 2/3 pyramidal neurons in the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) are sparsely active, spontaneously and during sensory stimulation. Long-range inputs from higher areas may gate L2/3 activity. We investigated their in vivo impact by expressing channelrhodopsin in three main sources of feedback to rat S1: primary motor cortex, secondary somatosensory cortex, and secondary somatosensory thalamic nucleus (the posterior medial nucleus, POm). Inputs from cortical areas were relatively weak. POm, however, more robustly depolarized L2/3 cells and, when paired with peripheral stimulation, evoked action potentials. POm triggered not only a stronger fast-onset depolarization but also a delayed all-or-none persistent depolarization, lasting up to 1 s and exhibiting alpha/beta-range oscillations. Inactivating POm somata abolished persistent but not initial depolarization, indicating a recurrent circuit mechanism. We conclude that secondary thalamus can enhance L2/3 responsiveness over long periods. Such timescales could provide a potential modality-specific substrate for attention, working memory, and plasticity.