Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 8, 1760 - 1767 (2005)
Published online: 30 October 2005 | doi:10.1038/nn1591

Synaptic background activity controls spike transfer from thalamus to cortex

Jakob Wolfart1,3,4, Damien Debay1,4, Gwendal Le Masson2, Alain Destexhe1 & Thierry Bal1

Characterizing the responsiveness of thalamic neurons is crucial to understanding the flow of sensory information. Typically, thalamocortical neurons possess two distinct firing modes. At depolarized membrane potentials, thalamic cells fire single action potentials and faithfully relay synaptic inputs to the cortex. At hyperpolarized potentials, the activation of T-type calcium channels promotes burst firing, and the transfer is less accurate. Our results suggest that this duality no longer holds if synaptic background activity is taken into account. By injecting stochastic conductances into guinea-pig thalamocortical neurons in slices, we show that the transfer function of these neurons is strongly influenced by conductance noise. The combination of synaptic noise with intrinsic properties gives a global responsiveness that is more linear, mixing single-spike and burst responses at all membrane potentials. Because in thalamic neurons, background synaptic input originates mainly from cortex, these results support a determinant role of corticothalamic feedback during sensory information processing.

  1. Unité de Neurosciences Integratives et Computationnelles, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 91198 Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
  2. Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) 358, Université Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2, Bordeaux, France.
  3. Present address: Neurozentrum, Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Freiburg, Breisacher Strasse 64, 79106 Freiburg, Germany.
  4. These authors contributed equally to this work.

Correspondence to: Thierry Bal1 e-mail:

Correspondence to: Jakob Wolfart1,3,4 e-mail:


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Burst firing in sensory systems

Nature Reviews Neuroscience Review (01 Jan 2004)

See all 21 matches for Reviews


A wake-up call from the thalamus

Nature Neuroscience News and Views (01 Apr 2001)

Awakening the brain

Nature News and Views (05 Sep 1996)

See all 3 matches for News And Views