To understand the principles of operation of the striatum it is critical to elucidate the properties of the main excitatory inputs from cortex and thalamus, as well as their ability to activate the main neurons of the striatum, the medium spiny neurons (MSNs). As the thalamostriatal projection is heterogeneous, we set out to isolate and study the thalamic afferent inputs to MSNs using small localized injections of adeno-associated virus carrying fusion genes for channelrhodopsin-2 and YFP, in either the rostral or caudal regions of the intralaminar thalamic nuclei (i.e. the central lateral or parafascicular nucleus). This enabled optical activation of specific thalamic afferents combined with whole-cell, patch-clamp recordings of MSNs and electrical stimulation of cortical afferents, in adult mice. We found that thalamostriatal synapses differ significantly in their peak amplitude responses, short-term dynamics and expression of ionotropic glutamate receptor subtypes. Our results suggest that central lateral synapses are most efficient in driving MSNs to depolarization, particularly those of the direct pathway, as they exhibit large amplitude responses, short-term facilitation and predominantly express postsynaptic AMPA receptors. In contrast, parafascicular synapses exhibit small amplitude responses, short-term depression and predominantly express postsynaptic NMDA receptors, suggesting a modulatory role, e.g. facilitating Ca(2+)-dependent processes. Indeed, pairing parafascicular, but not central lateral, presynaptic stimulation with action potentials in MSNs, leads to NMDA receptor- and Ca(2+)-dependent long-term depression at these synapses. We conclude that the main excitatory thalamostriatal afferents differ in many of their characteristics and suggest that they each contribute differentially to striatal information processing.
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Animals, Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2, Corpus Striatum, Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Neurons, Synapses, Thalamus