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Abstract

Fast synaptic transmission relies upon the activation of ionotropic receptors by neurotransmitter release to evoke postsynaptic potentials. Glutamate and GABA play dominant roles in driving highly dynamic activity in synaptically connected neuronal circuits, but ionotropic receptors for other neurotransmitters are also expressed in the neocortex, including nicotinic receptors, which are non-selective cation channels gated by acetylcholine. To study the function of non-glutamatergic excitation in neocortex, we used two-photon microscopy to target whole-cell membrane potential recordings to different types of genetically defined neurons in layer 2/3 of primary somatosensory barrel cortex in awake head-restrained mice combined with pharmacological and optogenetic manipulations. Here, we report a prominent nicotinic input, which selectively depolarizes a subtype of GABAergic neuron expressing vasoactive intestinal peptide leading to disinhibition during active sensorimotor processing. Nicotinic disinhibition of somatosensory cortex during active sensing might contribute importantly to integration of top-down and motor-related signals necessary for tactile perception and learning.

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