Integration of sensory quanta in cuneate nucleus neurons in vivo

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Discriminative touch relies on afferent information carried to the central nervous system by action potentials (spikes) in ensembles of primary afferents bundled in peripheral nerves. These sensory quanta are first processed by the cuneate nucleus before the afferent information is transmitted to brain networks serving specific perceptual and sensorimotor functions. Here we report data on the integration of primary afferent synaptic inputs obtained with in vivo whole cell patch clamp recordings from the neurons of this nucleus. We find that the synaptic integration in individual cuneate neurons is dominated by 4–8 primary afferent inputs with large synaptic weights. In a simulation we show that the arrangement with a low number of primary afferent inputs can maximize transfer over the cuneate nucleus of information encoded in the spatiotemporal patterns of spikes generated when a human fingertip contact objects. Hence, the observed distributions of synaptic weights support high fidelity transfer of signals from ensembles of tactile afferents. Various anatomical estimates suggest that a cuneate neuron may receive hundreds of primary afferents rather than 4–8. Therefore, we discuss the possibility that adaptation of synaptic weight distribution, possibly involving silent synapses, may function to maximize information transfer in somatosensory pathways.

AuthorsBengtsson, Fredrik; Brasselet, Romain; Johansson, Roland S; Arleo, Angelo; Jörntell, Henrik
JournalPLOS One