Recurrent inhibitory network among cholinergic inerneurons of the striatum
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The striatum is the initial input nuclei of the basal ganglia, and it serves as an integral processing center for action selection and sensorimotor learning. Glutamatergic projections from the cortex and thalamus converge with dense dopaminergic axons from the midbrain to provide the primary inputs to the striatum. Striatal output is then relayed to downstream basal ganglia nuclei by GABAergic medium – sized spiny neurons, which comprise at least 95% of the population of neurons in the striatum. The remaining population of local circuit neurons is dedicated to regulating the activity of spiny projection neurons, and although spiny neurons form a weak lateral inhibitory network among themselves via local axon collaterals, feedforward modulation exerts more powerful control over spiny neuron excitability. Of the striatal interneurons, only one class is not GABAergic. These neurons are cholinergic and correspond to the tonically active neurons (TANs) recorded in vivo, which respond to specific environmental stimuli with a transient depression, or pause, of tonic firing. Striatal cholinergic interneurons account for less than 2 % of the striatal neuronal population, yet their axons form an extensive and complex network that permeates the entire striatum and significantly shapes striatal output by acting at numerous targets via varied receptor types. Indeed, the persistent level of ambient striatal acetylcholine as well as changes to that basal acetylcholine level underlie the major mechanisms of cholinergic signaling in the striatum, however regulation of this system by the local striatal microcircuitry is not well understood. This dissertation finds that activation of intrastriatal cholinergic fibers elicits polysynaptic GABAA inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) in cholinergic interneurons recorded in brain slices. Excitation of striatal GABAergic neurons via nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) mediates this polysynaptic inhibition in a manner independent of dopamine. Moreover, activation of a single cholinergic interneuron is capable of eliciting polysynaptic GABAA IPSCs onto itself and nearby cholinergic interneurons. These findings provide an important insight into the striatal microcircuitry controlling cholinergic neuron excitability.