ABSTRACT: According to the prevailing view of neural development, sensory pathways develop sequentially in a feedforward manner, whereby each local microcircuit refines and stabilizes before directing the wiring of its downstream target. In the visual system, retinal circuits are thought to mature first and direct refinement in the thalamus, after which cortical circuits refine with experience-dependent plasticity. In contrast, we now show that feedback from cortex to thalamus critically regulates refinement of the retinogeniculate projection during a discrete window in development, beginning at postnatal day 20 in mice. Disrupting cortical activity during this window, pharmacologically or chemogenetically, increases the number of retinal ganglion cells innervating each thalamic relay neuron. These results suggest that primary sensory structures develop through the concurrent and interdependent remodeling of subcortical and cortical circuits in response to sensory experience, rather than through a simple feedforward process. Our findings also highlight an unexpected function for the corticothalamic projection.
Project description:Sensory cortical circuits are shaped by experience during sensitive periods in development. In the primary visual cortex (V1) altered visual experience results in changes in visual responsiveness of cortical neurons. The experience-dependent refinement of the circuit in V1 is thought to rely on competitive interactions between feedforward circuits driven by the two eyes. However, recent data have provided evidence for an additional role of cortico-cortical circuits in this process. Indeed, experience-dependent changes in intracortical circuits can be induced rapidly and may result in rapid-onset functional changes. Unilateral occlusion of vision rapidly alters visual responsiveness, synaptic strength and connectivity of local circuits in the binocular region of V1 (V1b), where the inputs from the two eyes converge. In the monocular region of rodent V1 (V1m), where feedforward inputs from the ipsilateral eye are virtually absent, visual deprivation induces rapid plasticity in local circuits; however, functional changes seem to occur only after long periods of deprivation. In V1m there is currently no evidence for functional changes occurring within a time window compatible with that of local circuit plasticity. Here, we probed the visual responsiveness of neurons in rat V1m and assessed the effect of one day unilateral eye lid suture on single neuron visual responses. We report a novel form of plasticity within V1m that occurs on a timescale consistent with the earliest known changes in synaptic strength. Our data provide new insights into how sensory experience can rapidly modulate neuronal responses, even in the absence of direct competition between feedforward thalamocortical inputs.
Project description:In the mammalian visual system, sensory experience is widely thought to sculpt cortical circuits during a precise critical period. In contrast, subcortical regions, such as the thalamus, were thought to develop at earlier ages in a vision-independent manner. Recent studies at the retinogeniculate synapse, however, have demonstrated an influence of vision on the formation of synaptic circuits in the thalamus. In mice, dark rearing from birth does not alter normal developmental maturation of the connection between retina and thalamus. However, deprivation 20 d after birth [postnatal day 20 (p20)] resulted in dramatic weakening of synaptic strength and an increase in the number of retinal inputs that innervate a thalamic relay neuron. Here, by quantifying changes in synaptic strength and connectivity in response to different time windows of deprivation, we find that several days of vision after eye opening is necessary for triggering experience-dependent plasticity. Shorter periods of visual experience do not permit similar experience-dependent synaptic reorganization. Furthermore, changes in connectivity are rapidly reversible simply by restoring normal vision. However, similar plasticity did not occur when shifting the onset of deprivation to p25. Although synapses still weakened, recruitment of additional retinal inputs no longer occurred. Therefore, synaptic circuits in the visual thalamus are unexpectedly malleable during a late developmental period, after the time when normal synapse elimination and pruning has occurred. This thalamic sensitive period overlaps temporally with experience-dependent changes in the cortex, suggesting that subcortical plasticity may influence cortical responses to sensory experience.
Project description:Feedforward GABAergic inhibition sets the dendritic integration window, thereby controlling timing and output in cortical circuits. However, the manner in which feedforward inhibitory circuits emerge is unclear, despite this being a critical step for neocortical development and function. We found that sensory experience drove plasticity of the feedforward inhibitory circuit in mouse layer 4 somatosensory barrel cortex in the second postnatal week via two distinct mechanisms. First, sensory experience selectively strengthened thalamocortical-to-feedforward interneuron inputs via a presynaptic mechanism but did not regulate other inhibitory circuit components. Second, experience drove a postsynaptic mechanism in which a downregulation of a prominent thalamocortical NMDA excitatory postsynaptic potential in stellate cells regulated the final expression of functional feedforward inhibitory input. Thus, experience is required for specific, coordinated changes at thalamocortical synapses onto both inhibitory and excitatory neurons, producing a circuit plasticity that results in maturation of functional feedforward inhibition in layer 4.
Project description:Sensory experience influences the establishment of neural connectivity through molecular mechanisms that remain unclear. Here, we employ single-nucleus RNA sequencing to investigate the contribution of sensory-driven gene expression to synaptic refinement in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, a region of the brain that processes visual information. We find that visual experience induces the expression of the cytokine receptor Fn14 in excitatory thalamocortical neurons. By combining electrophysiological and structural techniques, we show that Fn14 is dispensable for early phases of refinement mediated by spontaneous activity but that Fn14 is essential for refinement during a later, experience-dependent period of development. Refinement deficits in mice lacking Fn14 are associated with functionally weaker and structurally smaller retinogeniculate inputs, indicating that Fn14 mediates both functional and anatomical rearrangements in response to sensory experience. These findings identify Fn14 as a molecular link between sensory-driven gene expression and vision-sensitive refinement in the brain.
Project description:How the brain selects appropriate sensory inputs and suppresses distractors is unknown. Given the well-established role of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in executive function, its interactions with sensory cortical areas during attention have been hypothesized to control sensory selection. To test this idea and, more generally, dissect the circuits underlying sensory selection, we developed a cross-modal divided-attention task in mice that allowed genetic access to this cognitive process. By optogenetically perturbing PFC function in a temporally precise window, the ability of mice to select appropriately between conflicting visual and auditory stimuli was diminished. Equivalent sensory thalamocortical manipulations showed that behaviour was causally dependent on PFC interactions with the sensory thalamus, not sensory cortex. Consistent with this notion, we found neurons of the visual thalamic reticular nucleus (visTRN) to exhibit PFC-dependent changes in firing rate predictive of the modality selected. visTRN activity was causal to performance as confirmed by bidirectional optogenetic manipulations of this subnetwork. Using a combination of electrophysiology and intracellular chloride photometry, we demonstrated that visTRN dynamically controls visual thalamic gain through feedforward inhibition. Our experiments introduce a new subcortical model of sensory selection, in which the PFC biases thalamic reticular subnetworks to control thalamic sensory gain, selecting appropriate inputs for further processing.
Project description:Myelination of projection neurons by oligodendrocytes is key to optimize action potential conduction over long distances. However, a large fraction of myelin enwraps the axons of parvalbumin-positive fast-spiking interneurons (FSI), exclusively involved in local cortical circuits. Whether FSI myelination contributes to the fine-tuning of intracortical networks is unknown. Here we demonstrate that FSI myelination is required for the establishment and maintenance of the powerful FSI-mediated feedforward inhibition of cortical sensory circuits. The disruption of GABAergic synaptic signaling of oligodendrocyte precursor cells prior to myelination onset resulted in severe FSI myelination defects characterized by longer internodes and nodes, aberrant myelination of branch points and proximal axon malformation. Consequently, high-frequency FSI discharges as well as FSI-dependent postsynaptic latencies and strengths of excitatory neurons were reduced. These dysfunctions generated a strong excitation-inhibition imbalance that correlated with whisker-dependent texture discrimination impairments. FSI myelination is therefore critical for the function of mature cortical inhibitory circuits.
Project description:Higher-order thalamic nuclei, such as the posterior medial nucleus (POm) in the somatosensory system or the pulvinar in the visual system, densely innervate the cortex and can influence perception and plasticity. To systematically evaluate how higher-order thalamic nuclei can drive cortical circuits, we investigated cell-type selective responses to POm stimulation in mouse primary somatosensory (barrel) cortex, using genetically targeted whole-cell recordings in acute brain slices. We find that ChR2-evoked thalamic input selectively targets specific cell types in the neocortex, revealing layer-specific modules for the summation and processing of POm input. Evoked activity in pyramidal neurons from deep layers is fast and synchronized by rapid feedforward inhibition from GABAergic parvalbumin-expressing neurons, and activity in superficial layers is weaker and prolonged, facilitated by slow inhibition from GABAergic neurons expressing the 5HT3a receptor. Somatostatin-expressing GABAergic neurons do not receive direct input in either layer and their spontaneous activity is suppressed during POm stimulation. This novel pattern of weak, delayed, thalamus-evoked inhibition in layer 2 suggests a longer integration window for incoming sensory information and may facilitate stimulus detection and plasticity in superficial pyramidal neurons.
Project description:Feedforward inhibition controls the time window for synaptic integration and ensures temporal precision in cortical circuits. There is little information whether feedforward inhibition affects neurons uniformly, or whether it contributes to computational refinement within the dendritic tree. Here we demonstrate that feedforward inhibition crucially shapes the integration of synaptic signals in pyramidal cell dendrites. Using voltage-sensitive dye imaging we studied the transmembrane voltage patterns in CA1 pyramidal neurons after Schaffer collateral stimulation in acute brain slices from mice. We observed a high degree of variability in the excitation-inhibition ratio between different branches of the dendritic tree. Many dendritic segments showed no depolarizing signal at all, especially the basal dendrites that received predominantly inhibitory signals. Application of the GABA(A) receptor antagonist bicuculline resulted in the spread of depolarizing signals throughout the dendritic tree. Tetanic stimulation of Schaffer collateral inputs induced significant alterations in the patterns of excitation/inhibition, indicating that they are modified by synaptic plasticity. In summary, we show that feedforward inhibition restricts the occurrence of depolarizing signals within the dendritic tree of CA1 pyramidal neurons and thus refines signal integration spatially.
Project description:Migraine is a complex brain disorder, characterized by attacks of unilateral headache and global dysfunction in multisensory information processing, whose underlying cellular and circuit mechanisms remain unknown. The finding of enhanced excitatory, but unaltered inhibitory, neurotransmission at intracortical synapses in mouse models of familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) suggested the hypothesis that dysregulation of the excitatory-inhibitory balance in specific circuits is a key pathogenic mechanism. Here, we investigated the thalamocortical (TC) feedforward inhibitory microcircuit in FHM1 mice of both sexes carrying a gain-of-function mutation in CaV2.1. We show that TC synaptic transmission in somatosensory cortex is enhanced in FHM1 mice. Due to similar gain of function of TC excitation of layer 4 excitatory and fast-spiking inhibitory neurons elicited by single thalamic stimulations, neither the excitatory-inhibitory balance nor the integration time window set by the TC feedforward inhibitory microcircuit was altered in FHM1 mice. However, during repetitive thalamic stimulation, the typical shift of the excitatory-inhibitory balance toward excitation and the widening of the integration time window were both smaller in FHM1 compared with WT mice, revealing a dysregulation of the excitatory-inhibitory balance, whereby the balance is relatively skewed toward inhibition. This is due to an unexpected differential effect of the FHM1 mutation on short-term synaptic plasticity at TC synapses on cortical excitatory and fast-spiking inhibitory neurons. Our findings point to enhanced transmission of sensory, including trigeminovascular nociceptive, signals from thalamic nuclei to cortex and TC excitatory-inhibitory imbalance as mechanisms that may contribute to headache, increased sensory gain, and sensory processing dysfunctions in migraine.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Migraine is a complex brain disorder, characterized by attacks of unilateral headache and by global dysfunction in multisensory information processing, whose underlying cellular and circuit mechanisms remain unknown. Here we provide insights into these mechanisms by investigating thalamocortical (TC) synaptic transmission and the function of the TC feedforward inhibitory microcircuit in a mouse model of a rare monogenic migraine. This microcircuit is critical for gating information flow to cortex and for sensory processing. We reveal increased TC transmission and dysregulation of the cortical excitatory-inhibitory balance set by the TC feedforward inhibitory microcircuit, whereby the balance is relatively skewed toward inhibition during repetitive thalamic activity. These alterations may contribute to headache, increased sensory gain, and sensory processing dysfunctions in migraine.
Project description:Mammalian sensory circuits become refined over development in an activity-dependent manner. Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons from each eye first map to their target in the geniculate and then segregate into eye-specific layers by the removal and addition of axon branches. Once segregation is complete, robust functional remodeling continues as the number of afferent inputs to each geniculate neuron decreases from many to a few. It is widely assumed that large-scale axon retraction underlies this later phase of circuit refinement. On the contrary, RGC axons remain stable during functional pruning. Instead, presynaptic boutons grow in size and cluster during this process. Moreover, they exhibit dynamic spatial reorganization in response to sensory experience. Surprisingly, axon complexity decreases only after the completion of the thalamic critical period. Therefore, dynamic bouton redistribution along a broad axon backbone represents an unappreciated form of plasticity underlying developmental wiring and rewiring in the CNS.