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Differences in excitatory transmission between thalamic and cortical afferents to single spiny efferent neurons of rat dorsal striatum


Dr R. M. Smeal, *present address below.


The striatum is crucially involved in motor and cognitive function, and receives significant glutamate input from the cortex and thalamus. The corticostriatal pathway arises from diverse regions of the cortex and is thought to provide information to the basal ganglia from which motor actions are selected and modified. The thalamostriatal pathway arises from specific thalamic nuclei and is involved in attention and possibly strategy switching. Despite these fundamental functional differences, direct comparisons of the properties of these pathways are lacking. N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors at synapses powerfully affect postsynaptic processing, and incorporation of different NR2 subunits into NMDA receptors has profound effects on the pharmacological and biophysical properties of the receptor. Utilization of different NMDA receptors at thalamostriatal and corticostriatal synapses could allow for afferent-specific differences in information processing. We used a novel rat brain slice preparation preserving corticostriatal and thalamostriatal pathways to medium spiny neurons to examine the properties of NMDA receptor-mediated excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) recorded using the whole-cell, patch-clamp technique. Within the same neuron, the NMDA/non-NMDA ratio is greater for excitatory responses evoked from the thalamostriatal pathway than for those evoked from the corticostriatal pathway. In addition, reversal potentials and decay kinetics of the NMDA receptor-mediated EPSCs suggest that the thalamostriatal synapse is more distant on the dendritic arbor. Finally, results obtained with antagonists specific for NR2B-containing NMDA receptors imply that NMDA receptors at corticostriatal synapses contain more NR2B subunits. These synapse-specific differences in NMDA receptor content and pharmacology provide potential differential sites of action for NMDA receptor subtype-specific antagonists proposed for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.