EEG and single-unit techniques have been used to study the EEG correlates of cellular firing in the neocortex, n. reticularis (RT) and "specific" thalamic nuclei, and the cholinergic forebrain area (nucleus basalis, NB). Neuronal firing was related to the ongoing behavior of the rat. In addition, using a 16-channel neocortical recording/mapping system, we studied the effects of ibotenic acid lesion of NB, RT, and other thalamic nuclei on the patterns and spatial distribution of neocortical electrical activity. The majority of neurons in neocortex, NB, and RT increased their firing rates during walking, as compared to during immobility, with concurrent decrease of delta power in the neocortical EEG. During immobility, high-voltage spindles (HVS; greater than 1 mV) were occasionally recorded from the neocortex. Depth profiles of HVS and slow delta waves were different in the neocortex. Neocortical cells decreased their discharge frequency during the positive portion of delta waves recorded in layers V and VI. All cells in the neocortex and specific thalamic nuclei fired rhythmically and phase-locked to the spike component of HVS. RT neurons showed an opposite phase relationship and fired mainly during the wave component of HVS. Half of the NB neurons also showed phasic modulation with HVS. Circumscribed lesion of RT and extensive damage of other thalamic regions, including the intralaminar nuclei, suppressed HVS but had no effect on the neocortical EEG correlates of behavior. In sharp contrast, damage to the NB resulted in a dramatic increase of slow delta waves on the side of the lesion, mimicking the effect of scopolamine administration. We suggest that the NB plays a key role in neocortical arousal by directly activating the neocortex and by suppressing the rhythm generation in the RT-thalamocortical circuitry. We further suggest that the NB system may serve as a structural basis for the concept of the generalized ascending activation of Moruzzi and Magoun (1949).
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