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Keywords:

  • thalamus;
  • A-current;
  • T-current;
  • absence epilepsy;
  • genetic model

Abstract

A transient potassium (K+) outward current (IA) contributes to the distinctive patterns of low-threshold spike firing observed in various classes of thalamic neurons through a functional interaction with a calcium (Ca2+)-mediated inward current (IT). The present study was undertaken to investigate the properties of transient K+ currents and their interaction with IT in neurons of the reticular thalamic nucleus, and to compare these properties in reticular thalamic nucleus neurons from a rat model of absence epilepsy, designated the Genetic Absence Epilepsy Rat from Strasbourg (GAERS), with those from a Non-epileptic Control strain (NEC). This comparative approach appeared to be particularly important in view of the recent finding of a selective increase in IT in reticular thalamic nucleus neurons from GAERS. Neurons were acutely isolated from the reticular thalamic nucleus through enzymatic procedures, and identified by morphological and immunocytochemical criteria. Ionic currents were analysed using whole-cell patch-clamp techniques. Transient K+ currents in reticular thalamic nucleus neurons with properties indicative of IA activated at ∼−55 mV (with half-activation at −27 and −33 mV in NEC and GAERS respectively), declined rapidly with a voltage-dependent time constant (τ= 4 ms at +45 mV), were 50% steady-state-inactivated at −81 and −86 mV in the two strains of rats respectively, and rapidly recovered from inactivation with a monoexponential time course (τ= 31 and 37 ms respectively). No significant differences in IA properties or densities were found between reticular thalamic nucleus neurons from GAERS and NEC rats. Analysis of the interaction between IA and IT indicated a shift in the balance between the two opposing membrane conductances towards the generation of a low-voltage-activated inward current in reticular thalamic nucleus neurons from GAERS compared with NEC, and a lack of IA to functionally compensate for this shift, which in turn may contribute to pathological forms of low-threshold spike firing characterizing spike-and-wave discharges.