The physiological and molecular features of nonpyramidal cells were investigated in acute slices of sensory-motor cortex using whole-cell recordings combined with single-cell RT-PCR to detect simultaneously the mRNAs of three calcium binding proteins (calbindin D28k, parvalbumin, and calretinin) and four neuropeptides (neuropeptide Y, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, somatostatin, and cholecystokinin). In the 97 neurons analyzed, all expressed mRNAs of at least one calcium binding protein, and the majority (n = 73) contained mRNAs of at least one neuropeptide. Three groups of nonpyramidal cells were defined according to their firing pattern. (1) Fast spiking cells (n = 34) displayed tonic discharges of fast action potentials with no accommodation. They expressed parvalbumin (n = 30) and/or calbindin (n = 19) mRNAs, and half of them also contained transcripts of at least one of the four neuropeptides. (2) Regular spiking nonpyramidal cells (n = 48) displayed a firing behavior characterized by a marked accommodation and presented a large diversity of expression patterns of the seven biochemical markers. (3) Finally, a small population of vertically oriented bipolar cells, termed irregular spiking cells (n = 15), fired bursts of action potentials at an irregular frequency. They consistently co-expressed calretinin and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide. Additional investigations of these cells showed that they also co-expressed glutamic acid decarboxylase and choline acetyl transferase. Our results indicate that neocortical nonpyramidal neurons display a large diversity in their firing properties and biochemical patterns of co-expression and that both characteristics could be correlated to define discrete subpopulations.
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