The principal target of lateral geniculate nucleus in the cat visual cortex is the stellate neurons of layer 4. In previously reported work with intracellular recording and extracellular stimulation in slices of visual cortex, three general classes of fast excitatory synaptic potentials (EPSPs) in layer 4a spiny stellate neurons were identified. One of these classes, characterized by large and relatively invariant amplitudes (mean 1.7 mV, average coefficient of variation (CV) 0.083) were attributed to the action of geniculate axons because, unlike the other two classes, they could not be matched by intracortical inputs, using paired recording. We have examined in detail the properties of this synaptic input in twelve examples, selecting for study those EPSPs where there was secure extracellular stimulation of the single fibre input to a pair of stimuli 50 ms apart. In our analysis, we conclude that the depression that these inputs show to the second stimulus is entirely postsynaptic, since the evidence strongly suggests that the probability of transmitter release at the synaptic site(s) remains 1.0 for both stimuli. We argue that the most plausible explanation for this postsynaptic depression is a reduction in the average probability of opening the synaptic channels. Using a simple biochemical analysis (c.f. Sigworth plot), it is then possible to calculate the number of synaptic channels and their probability of opening, for each of the 12 connections. The EPSPs had a mean amplitude of 1.91 mV (+/- 1.3 mV SD) and a mean CV of 0.067 (+/- 0.022). The calculated number of channels ranged from 20 to 158 (59.4 +/- 48.7) and their probability of opening to the first EPSP had an average of 0.83 (+/- 0.09), with an average depression of the probability to 0.60 for the second EPSP. Geniculate afferents also terminate in layer 6. Intracellular recordings were also made in the upper part of this layer and a total of 51 EPSPs were recorded from pyramidal cells of three principal types. Amongst this dataset we sought EPSPs with similar properties to those characterized in layer 4a. Three examples were found, which is a much lower percentage (6%) than the incidence of putative geniculate EPSPs found in layer 4a (42%).
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