[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Where are the 'prime movers' that control behavior? Which circuits in the brain control the order in which individual motor gestures of a learned behavior are generated, and the speed at which they progress? Here we describe two techniques recently applied to localizing and characterizing the circuitry underlying the generation of vocal sequences in the songbird. The first utilizes small, localized, temperature changes in the brain to perturb the speed of neural dynamics. The second utilizes intracellular manipulation of membrane potential in the freely behaving animal to perturb the dynamics within a single neuron. Both of these techniques are broadly applicable in behaving animals to test hypotheses about the biophysical and circuit dynamics that allow neural circuits to march from one state to the next.
Current opinion in neurobiology 07/2011; 21(5):693-700. · 7.21 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In songbirds, the remarkable temporal precision of song is generated by a sparse sequence of bursts in the premotor nucleus HVC. To distinguish between two possible classes of models of neural sequence generation, we carried out intracellular recordings of HVC neurons in singing zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). We found that the subthreshold membrane potential is characterized by a large, rapid depolarization 5-10 ms before burst onset, consistent with a synaptically connected chain of neurons in HVC. We found no evidence for the slow membrane potential modulation predicted by models in which burst timing is controlled by subthreshold dynamics. Furthermore, bursts ride on an underlying depolarization of ∼10-ms duration, probably the result of a regenerative calcium spike within HVC neurons that could facilitate the propagation of activity through a chain network with high temporal precision. Our results provide insight into the fundamental mechanisms by which neural circuits can generate complex sequential behaviours.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We introduce a novel wireless, low-power neural stimulation system for use in freely behaving animals. The system consists of an external transmitter and a miniature, implantable wireless receiver-stimulator. The implant uses a custom integrated chip to deliver biphasic current pulses to four addressable bipolar electrodes at 32 selectable current levels (10 microA to 1 mA). To achieve maximal battery life, the chip enters a sleep mode when not needed and can be awakened remotely when required. To test our device, we implanted bipolar stimulating electrodes into the songbird motor nucleus HVC (formerly called the high vocal center) of zebra finches. Single-neuron recordings revealed that wireless stimulation of HVC led to a strong increase of spiking activity in its downstream target, the robust nucleus of the arcopallium. When we used this device to deliver biphasic pulses of current randomly during singing, singing activity was prematurely terminated in all birds tested. Thus our device is highly effective for remotely modulating a neural circuit and its corresponding behavior in an untethered, freely behaving animal.
Journal of Neurophysiology 05/2009; 102(1):598-605. · 3.30 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Many complex behaviours, like speech or music, have a hierarchical organization with structure on many timescales, but it is not known how the brain controls the timing of behavioural sequences, or whether different circuits control different timescales of the behaviour. Here we address these issues by using temperature to manipulate the biophysical dynamics in different regions of the songbird forebrain involved in song production. We find that cooling the premotor nucleus HVC (formerly known as the high vocal centre) slows song speed across all timescales by up to 45 per cent but only slightly alters the acoustic structure, whereas cooling the downstream motor nucleus RA (robust nucleus of the arcopallium) has no observable effect on song timing. Our observations suggest that dynamics within HVC are involved in the control of song timing, perhaps through a chain-like organization. Local manipulation of brain temperature should be broadly applicable to the identification of neural circuitry that controls the timing of behavioural sequences and, more generally, to the study of the origin and role of oscillatory and other forms of brain dynamics in neural systems.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Synchronous activity is common in the neocortex, although its significance, mechanisms, and development are poorly understood. Previous work showed that networks of electrically coupled inhibitory interneurons called low-threshold spiking (LTS) cells can fire synchronously when stimulated by metabotropic glutamate receptors. Here we found that the coordinated inhibition emerging from an activated LTS network could induce correlated spiking patterns among neighboring excitatory cells. Synchronous activity among LTS cells was absent at postnatal day 12 (P12) but appeared abruptly over the next few days. The rapid development of the LTS-synchronizing system coincided with the maturation of the inhibitory outputs and intrinsic membrane properties of the neurons. In contrast, the incidence and magnitude of electrical synapses remained constant between P8 and P15. The developmental transformation of LTS interneurons into a synchronous, oscillatory network overlaps with the onset of active somatosensory exploration, suggesting a potential role for this synchronizing system in sensory processing.
Journal of Neuroscience 09/2005; 25(32):7309-16. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the master circadian pacemaker, neurons show circadian variations in firing frequency. There is also considerable synchrony of spiking across SCN neurons on a scale of milliseconds, but the mechanisms are poorly understood. Using paired whole-cell recordings, we have found that many neurons in the rat SCN communicate via electrical synapses. Spontaneous spiking was often synchronized in pairs of electrically coupled neurons, and the degree of this synchrony could be predicted from the magnitude of coupling. In wild-type mice, as in rats, the SCN contained electrical synapses, but electrical synapses were absent in connexin36-knockout mice. The knockout mice also showed dampened circadian activity rhythms and a delayed onset of activity during transition to constant darkness. We suggest that electrical synapses in the SCN help to synchronize its spiking activity, and that such synchrony is necessary for normal circadian behavior.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The inhibitory neurons of the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) contribute to the generation of widespread oscillations in the thalamocortical system. Some TRN neurons are interconnected by electrical synapses, and here we tested the possibility that electrical synapses mediate rhythmic synchrony in juvenile rats. Both the incidence and strength of electrical coupling between pairs of TRN neurons were a steep function of intersomatic distance, and coupling was absent at distances >40 microm. Presynaptic spike bursts evoked much larger electrical postsynaptic potentials than did single presynaptic spikes. Activation of metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) with a bath-applied agonist or an endogenous ligand released during tetanic stimulation induced robust rhythms of the subthreshold membrane potential, with a mean frequency of approximately 10 Hz. In the absence of fast chemical synaptic transmission, subthreshold rhythms and the action potentials that they evoked were well synchronized between closely spaced, electrically coupled pairs; rhythms in noncoupled cells were not synchronized. The results suggest that electrical synapses can coordinate spindle-frequency rhythms among small clusters of mGluR-activated TRN cells.
Journal of Neuroscience 02/2004; 24(2):341-9. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Many neurons in the mammalian central nervous system communicate through electrical synapses, defined here as gap junction-mediated connections. Electrical synapses are reciprocal pathways for ionic current and small organic molecules. They are often strong enough to mediate close synchronization of subthreshold and spiking activity among clusters of neurons. The most thoroughly studied electrical synapses occur between excitatory projection neurons of the inferior olivary nucleus and between inhibitory interneurons of the neocortex, hippocampus, and thalamus. All these synapses require the gap junction protein connexin36 (Cx36) for robust electrical coupling. Cx36 appears to interconnect neurons exclusively, and it is expressed widely along the mammalian neuraxis, implying that there are undiscovered electrical synapses throughout the central nervous system. Some central neurons may be electrically coupled by other connexin types or by pannexins, a newly described family of gap junction proteins. Electrical synapses are a ubiquitous yet underappreciated feature of neural circuits in the mammalian brain.
Annual Review of Neuroscience 02/2004; 27:393-418. · 20.61 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Neurons of the inferior olivary nucleus (IO) form the climbing fibers that excite Purkinje cells of the cerebellar cortex. IO neurons are electrically coupled through gap junctions, and they generate synchronous, subthreshold oscillations of membrane potential at approximately 5-10 Hz. Experimental and theoretical studies have suggested that both the rhythmicity and synchrony of IO neurons require electrical coupling. We recorded from pairs of IO neurons in slices of mouse brainstem in vitro. Most pairs of neurons from wild-type (WT) mice were electrically coupled, but coupling was rare and weak between neurons of knock-out (KO) mice for connexin36, a neuronal gap junction protein. IO cells in both WT and KO mice generated rhythmic membrane fluctuations of similar frequency and amplitude. Oscillations in neighboring pairs of WT neurons were strongly synchronized, whereas the oscillations of KO pairs were uncorrelated. Spontaneous oscillations in KO neurons were not blocked by tetrodotoxin. Spontaneously oscillating neurons of both WT and KO mice generated occasional action potentials in phase with their membrane rhythms, but only the action potentials of WT neuron pairs were synchronous. Harmaline, a beta-carboline derivative thought to induce tremor by facilitating rhythmogenesis in the IO, was injected systemically into WT and KO mice. Harmaline-induced tremors were robust and indistinguishable in the two genotypes, suggesting that gap junction-mediated synchrony does not play a role in harmaline-induced tremor. We conclude that electrical coupling is not necessary for the generation of spontaneous subthreshold oscillations in single IO neurons, but that coupling can serve to synchronize rhythmic activity among IO neurons.
Journal of Neuroscience 01/2003; 22(24):10898-905. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Neurons of the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) provide inhibitory input to thalamic relay cells and generate synchronized activity during sleep and seizures. It is widely assumed that TRN cells interact only via chemical synaptic connections. However, we show that many neighboring pairs of TRN neurons in rats and mice are electrically coupled. In paired-cell recordings, electrical synapses were able to mediate close correlations between action potentials when the coupling was strong; they could modulate burst-firing states even when the coupling strength was more modest. Electrical synapses between TRN neurons were absent in mice with a null mutation for the connexin36 (Cx36) gene. Surprisingly, inhibitory chemical synaptic connections between pairs of neurons were not observed, although strong extracellular stimuli could evoke inhibition in single TRN neurons. We conclude that Cx36-dependent gap junctions play an important role in the regulation of neural firing patterns within the TRN. When combined with recent observations from the cerebral cortex, our results imply that electrical synapses are a common mechanism for generating synchrony within networks of inhibitory neurons in the mammalian forebrain.
Journal of Neuroscience 03/2002; 22(3):1002-9. · 6.91 Impact Factor