Cholinergic Signals in Mouse Barrel Cortex during Active Whisker Sensing
Internal brain states affect sensory perception, cognition, and learning. Many neocortical areas exhibit changes in the pattern and synchrony of neuronal activity during quiet versus active behaviors. Active behaviors are typically associated with desynchronized cortical dynamics. Increased thalamic firing contributes importantly to desynchronize mouse barrel cortex during active whisker sensing. However, a whisking-related cortical state change persists after thalamic inactivation, which is mediated at least in part by acetylcholine, as we show here by using whole-cell recordings, local pharmacology, axonal calcium imaging, and optogenetic stimulation. During whisking, we find prominent cholinergic signals in the barrel cortex, which suppress spontaneous cortical activity. The desynchronized state of barrel cortex during whisking is therefore driven by at least two distinct signals with opposing functions: increased thalamic activity driving glutamatergic excitation of the cortex and increased cholinergic input suppressing spontaneous cortical activity.