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Keywords:

  • A-current;
  • non-NMDA receptors;
  • postsynaptic potentials;
  • Q-current;
  • rhythmic activity

Abstract

The dorsal column nuclei include the gracile and cuneate nuclei, which receive somatosensory information from the periphery and project to the ventroposterior nucleus of the contralateral thalamus. The aim of this study was to determine the electrophysiological and morphological characteristics of the neurons of the dorsal column nuclei and to identify synaptic events evoked by electrical stimulation of the dorsal column, using an in vitro slice preparation. The results show two types of neurons, termed type I and II. A repolarizing sag distinguished type I cells during hyperpolarizing current injection, suggesting the activation of a Q-current. Moreover, type I cells, but not type II cells, were capable of maintaining spontaneous rhythmic activity at 9–15 Hz. Both types of cells displayed a delay in their return to the resting membrane potential following hyperpolarizing current pulses, indicating the existence of an A-current. Electrical stimuli applied to the dorsal column elicited brief EPSPs and IPSPs in both cell types. EPSPs were abolished by 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione, indicating that they were mediated through non-NMDA receptors. IPSPs were blocked by picrotoxin, implying the activation of GABAA receptors. Intracellular staining with carboxyfluoresceine revealed that type I neurons had elongated somas and primary dendrites that extended radially. Type II cells were smaller and had round somas with few primary dendrites, most of them emerging from one pole of the soma. The axon of many type I neurons was stained and could be followed running ventrally and in rostral direction.