Target and temporal pattern selection at neocortical synapses

Alex M. Thomson, A. Peter Bannister, Audrey Mercer, Oliver T. Morris


We attempt to summarize the properties of cortical synaptic connections and the precision with which they select their targets in the context of information processing in cortical circuits. High–frequency presynaptic bursts result in rapidly depressing responses at most inputs onto spiny cells and onto some interneurons. These ‘phasic’ connections detect novelty and changes in the firing rate, but report frequency of maintained activity poorly. By contrast, facilitating inputs to interneurons that target dendrites produce little or no response at low frequencies, but a facilitating–augmenting response to maintained firing. The neurons activated, the cells they in turn target and the properties of those synapses determine which parts of the circuit are recruited and in what temporal pattern. Inhibitory interneurons provide both temporal and spatial tuning. The ‘forward’ flow from layer–4 excitatory neurons to layer 3 and from 3 to 5 activates predominantly pyramids. ‘Back’ projections, from 3 to 4 and 5 to 3, do not activate excitatory cells, but target interneurons. Despite, therefore, an increasing complexity in the information integrated as it is processed through these layers, there is little ‘contamination’ by ‘back’ projections. That layer 6 acts both as a primary input layer feeding excitation ‘forward’ to excitatory cells in other layers and as a higher–order layer with more integrated response properties feeding inhibition to layer 4 is discussed.

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