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Spatiotemporal profile of synaptic activation produced by the electrical and visual stimulation of retinal inputs to the optic tectum: a current source density analysis in the pigeon (Columba livia)


: Dr Juan Carlos Letelier, as above.


The optic tectum of the pigeon is a highly organized, multilayered structure that receives a massive polystratified afference of at least five different populations of retinal ganglion cells and gives rise to various anatomically segregated efferent systems. The synaptic organization of retino-tectal circuitry is, at present, mostly unknown. To investigate the spatiotemporal profile of synaptic activation produced by differential (electrical and visual) stimulation of the retinal inputs, we performed a high-spatial-resolution current source density analysis in the optic tectum of the anaesthetized pigeon. Electrical stimuli consisted of brief pulses of different durations applied to the optic nerve head, while visual stimuli consisted of light flashes of different intensities. Electrical stimulation generated sinks confined to retinorecipient layers. The temporal structure, spatial location and thresholds of these sinks indicated that they are all due to primary tectal synapses of retinal fibers with different conduction velocities. Sinks evoked by the fastest retinal axons were more superficially located than sinks produced by slower retinal fibers. Visual stimulation, on the other hand, resulted in a more complex pattern of current sinks, with various sinks located in the retinorecipient layers and also well below. Visual stimulation induced action potentials at superficial as well as deep tectal levels. We conclude that electrical stimulation activates most of the populations of ganglion cells as well as their primary tectal synapses, but is unable to elicit a significant activation of secondary tectal synapses. Visual stimulation, on the contrary, activates just some of the incoming retinal populations, but in a way that produces noticeable secondary activation of intratectal circuits. Laminar segregation of retinally evoked tectal activity, as reported here, has also been found in other vertebrates. Similarities and differences with previous studies are discussed.

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