Whisking-Related Changes in Neuronal Firing and Membrane Potential Dynamics in the Somatosensory Thalamus of Awake Mice
The thalamus transmits sensory information to the neocortex and receives neocortical, subcortical, and neuromodulatory inputs. Despite its obvious importance, surprisingly little is known about thalamic function in awake animals. Here, using intracellular and extracellular recordings in awake head-restrained mice, we investigate membrane potential dynamics and action potential firing in the two major thalamic nuclei related to whisker sensation, the ventral posterior medial nucleus (VPM) and the posterior medial group (Pom), which receive distinct inputs from brainstem and neocortex. We find heterogeneous state-dependent dynamics in both nuclei, with an overall increase in action potential firing during active states. Whisking increased putative lemniscal and corticothalamic excitatory inputs onto VPM and Pom neurons, respectively. A subpopulation of VPM cells fired spikes phase-locked to the whisking cycle during free whisking, and these cells may therefore signal whisker position. Our results suggest differential processing of whisking comparing thalamic nuclei at both suband supra-threshold levels.