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Primary somatosensory cortex modulation of tactile responses in nucleus gracilis cells of rats


: Dr Angel Nuñez, as above.


Corticofugal influences from the primary somatosensory cortex to the gracilis nuclei were studied with single unit recordings performed in urethane-anaesthetized rats. Two types of neurons were identified: low firing rate (LF) neurons, which could be activated antidromically by medial lemniscus stimulation; and high firing rate (HF) neurons. The effects of electrically stimulating the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex were studied in two situations: when the stimulated cortical area and specific gracilis cells had overlapping receptive fields and when the receptive fields of the cells and primary somatosensory cortex did not overlap. Cortical stimulation facilitated cortical and tactile responses in most gracilis neurons (68% and 58% for LF and HF neurons, respectively) with overlapping receptive fields. When receptive fields were different, cortical stimulation inhibited tactile response in most LF neurons (58%) and some HF neurons (20%). Trains of cortical shocks during sensory stimulation demonstrated that the facilitatory and inhibitory effects outlasted the stimulation period by 5 min. The facilitatory effect was decreased by iontophoretic application of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist APV (50 mm). However, APV did not modify the intensity of the tactile response inhibition in cells with nonoverlapping receptive fields, although, its duration was decreased (<5 min). Iontophoretic application of the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)A antagonist bicuculline (20 mm) blocked the cortically evoked inhibition in cells with nonoverlapping receptive fields. The results indicate that the somatosensory cortex precisely controls somatosensory transmission throughout the gracilis nucleus by means of NMDA and GABAA receptor activation.