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Diverse subthreshold cross-modal sensory interactions in the thalamic reticular nucleus: implications for new pathways of cross-modal attentional gating function



Our attention to a sensory cue of a given modality interferes with attention to a sensory cue of another modality. However, an object emitting various sensory cues attracts attention more effectively. The thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) could play a pivotal role in such cross-modal modulation of attention given that cross-modal sensory interaction takes place in the TRN, because the TRN occupies a highly strategic position to function in the control of gain and/or gating of sensory processing in the thalamocortical loop. In the present study cross-modal interactions between visual and auditory inputs were examined in single TRN cells of anesthetised rats using juxta-cellular recording and labeling techniques. Visual or auditory responses were modulated by subthreshold sound or light stimuli, respectively, in the majority of recordings (46 of 54 visual and 60 of 73 auditory cells). However, few bimodal sensory cells were found. Cells showing modulation of the sensory response were distributed in the whole visual and auditory sectors of the TRN. Modulated cells sent axonal projections to first-order or higher-order thalamic nuclei. Suppression predominated in modulation that took place not only in primary responses but also in late responses repeatedly evoked after sensory stimulation. Combined sensory stimulation also evoked de-novo responses, and modulated response latency and burst spiking. These results indicate that the TRN incorporates sensory inputs of different modalities into single cell activity to function in sensory processing in the lemniscal and non-lemniscal systems. This raises the possibility that the TRN constitutes neural pathways involved in cross-modal attentional gating.