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Keywords:

  • rat;
  • sodium conductance;
  • spike clusters;
  • theta frequency

Abstract

The amygdala complex is a heterogeneous group of temporal lobe brain structures involved in the processing of biologically significant sensory stimuli and in the generation of appropriate responses to them. The amygdala has also been implicated in certain forms of emotional learning and memory. While much progress has been made in understanding neural processing in the basolateral subgroup of the amygdala, physiological studies in the cortical regions of the complex, also known as olfactory amygdala, are missing. Using a rat brain slice preparation, we conducted whole-cell recordings on pyramidal neurons of the periamygdaloid cortex and the anterior cortical nucleus, two structures receiving direct connections from the olfactory bulb. Upon depolarization by current injection through the recording electrode, a fraction of periamygdaloid cortex and most anterior cortical nucleus layer II pyramidal neurons displayed an intermittent discharge pattern, where clusters of action potentials were interspersed by periods of membrane potential subthreshold oscillations. Oscillations frequency increased with membrane potential and correlated linearly with the cluster spiking frequency. Frequency ranged from 3 to 20 Hz, considering different cells and membrane potential values (up to approximately 30 mV above resting potentials of typically approximately −70 mV). Subthreshold oscillations were preserved after pharmacological inhibition of fast excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission, but were abolished by application of the sodium channel blocker tetrodotoxin. We conclude that pyramidal neurons of the olfactory cortical amygdala display intrinsically generated voltage-dependent membrane potential rhythmic fluctuations in the theta-low beta range, requiring the activation of a sodium conductance.