Article

On the actions that one nerve cell can have on another: Distinguishing "drivers" from "modulators"

University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.81). 07/1998; 95(12):7121-6. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.95.12.7121
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT When one nerve cell acts on another, its postsynaptic effect can vary greatly. In sensory systems, inputs from "drivers" can be differentiated from those of "modulators." The driver can be identified as the transmitter of receptive field properties; the modulator can be identified as altering the probability of certain aspects of that transmission. Where receptive fields are not available, the distinction is more difficult and currently is undefined. We use the visual pathways, particularly the thalamic geniculate relay for which much relevant evidence is available, to explore ways in which drivers can be distinguished from modulators. The extent to which the distinction may apply first to other parts of the thalamus and then, possibly, to other parts of the brain is considered. We suggest the following distinctions: Cross-correlograms from driver inputs have sharper peaks than those from modulators; there are likely to be few drivers but many modulators for any one cell; and drivers are likely to act only through ionotropic receptors having a fast postsynaptic effect whereas modulators also are likely to activate metabotropic receptors having a slow and prolonged postsynaptic effect.

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