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Keywords:

  • constitutively active receptors;
  • miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents;
  • miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents;
  • thalamic reticular neurons;
  • Wistar rat

Abstract

Traditionally, neurotransmitters are associated with a fast, or phasic, type of action on neurons in the central nervous system (CNS). However, accumulating evidence indicates that γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate can also have a continual, or tonic, influence on these cells. Here, in voltage- and current-clamp recordings in rat brain slices, we identify three types of tonically active receptors in a single CNS structure, the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). Thus, TRN contains constitutively active GABAA receptors (GABAARs), which are located on TRN neurons and generate a persistent outward Cl current. When TRN neurons are depolarized, blockade of this current increases their action potential output in response to current injection. Furthermore, TRN contains tonically active GluN2B-containing N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs). These are located on reticuloreticular GABAergic terminals in TRN and generate a persistent facilitation of vesicular GABA release from these terminals. In addition, TRN contains tonically active metabotropic glutamate type 2 receptors (mGlu2Rs). These are located on glutamatergic cortical terminals in TRN and generate a persistent reduction of vesicular glutamate release from these terminals. Although tonically active GABAARs, NMDARs and mGlu2Rs operate through different mechanisms, we propose that the continual and combined activity of these three receptor types ultimately serves to hyperpolarize TRN neurons, which will differentially affect the output of these cells depending upon the current state of their membrane potential. Thus, when TRN cells are relatively depolarized, their firing in single-spike tonic mode will be reduced, whereas when these cells are relatively hyperpolarized, their ability to fire in multispike burst mode will be facilitated.