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Keywords:

  • current source-density;
  • noradrenergic system;
  • phasic stimulation;
  • rat;
  • sensory processing

Abstract

Chronic recording of locus coeruleus (LC) neurons in rat and monkey have pointed out that brief, phasic LC discharges, but not sustained activity, are specifically related to salient stimuli and attention. However, the sensory consequences of phasic activation of the noradrenergic system by a brief conditioning stimulation of the LC have not been fully investigated. This study examined the effect of LC activation on synaptic and neuronal responses to a tactile stimulus in the sensorimotor cortex of the anaesthetized rat, by analysing the fine temporal structure of sensory discharges and current source-density profiles recorded from the same electrodes. LC stimulation, with minimal EEG effects, consistently reduced the synaptic input in layers IV and V–VI, by decreasing the amplitude and duration of short-latency current sinks, but not the slope of their early rising phase. Simultaneously, most multiple and single unit excitatory responses were shortened by the suppression of their late component after 25–30 ms, whereas robust temporal facilitation of the early discharge was found for spike latency mean and variance, spike timing and synchronization to the stimulus, but leaving the number of spikes unaffected. These two apparently opposite effects on the synaptic drive and neuronal response are reminiscent of the noradrenergic depression of afferent synaptic potentials observed with an increased neuronal excitability in vitro. They are interpreted as a noradrenergic sharpening of thalamocortical processing consistent with a presumed role of synchronous discharges in perception that would depend on activated states, particularly when LC activity is correlated with vigilance or attention.