We used a juvenile mouse thalamocortical slice preparation with whole cell recording to investigate synaptic properties of corticothalamic inputs from somatosensory cortex to the ventral posterior medial and posterior medial nuclei (98 cells). We compared these data to those obtained from activating retinal and cortical inputs to the lateral geniculate nucleus (8 cells), the former representing a prototypical driver input and the latter, a typical modulator. Retinogeniculate activation evoked large, all-or-none excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) that showed paired-pulse depression antagonized by N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) and AMPA receptor blockers but with no sign of a metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) component. Corticogeniculate activation evoked small, graded EPSPs showing paired-pulse facilitation, and the EPSPs showed both NMDA and AMPA receptor component plus an mGluR1 component. In the somatosensory thalamic relays, cortical stimulation elicited glutamatergic EPSPs in all thalamic cells, and these EPSPs fell into two groups. One, elicited from cortical layer 6 to cells of both nuclei, involved small, graded EPSPs with paired-pulse facilitation, and most also showed an mGluR1 component. The other, elicited from layer 5 to cells only of the posterior medial nucleus, involved large, all-or-none EPSPs with paired-pulse depression, and none showed an mGluR component. By analogy with results from the lateral geniculate nucleus, we conclude that the input from layer 6 to both nuclei acts as a modulator but that the layer 5 input to the posterior medial nucleus serves as a driver. Our data extend a common organizing principle from first-order nuclei to higher-order thalamic relays and further implicate the latter in corticocortical communication.
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