Contextual impact on sensory processing at the barrel cortex of awake rat
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In order to understand the processing of sensory information in different behavioral situations we recorded evoked potentials (EP) to stimulation of a single vibrissa in the barrel cortex of non-anesthetized rat. We attributed the two principal components of the first negative wave (N1) of the cortical EP to the activation of two pyramidal cell populations (supra- and infragranular) of the central barrel-column. A positive wave of longer latency (P2) reflected the activation of the neighboring columns of the barrel cortex. The EPs recorded continuously throughout the experiment could be sorted into two classes dominated by the activity of either infra- or supragranular pyramidal cells. The introduction of an aversive contextual stimuli increased the amplitude of the second component of the N1 wave, which is built up by activation of infragranular cells, and the amplitude of the P2 wave representing excitation of neighboring columns. We hypothesize that increased activity of infragranular cells activates a cortico-thalamo-cortical loop going through the POm nucleus, which finally excites wider areas of primary somatosensory cortex. This spread of activity enables the comparison of information from neighboring vibrissae at the mystacial pad. The general cortical activation caused by the introduction of the contextual stimuli might be induced by noradrenergic and/or cholinergic systems. Prolonged contextual stimulation causes habituation processes, which return the cortical network to an idle state.
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E. Kublik, Department of Neurophysiology, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, 3 Pasteur St., 02-093 Warsaw, Poland