Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

The control of retinogeniculate transmission in the mammalian lateral geniculate nucleus

  • S. M. Sherman
  • C. Koch


In the mammalian visual system, the lateral geniculate nucleus is commonly thought to act merely as a relay for the transmission of visual information from the retina to the visual cortex, a relay without significant elaboration in receptive field properties or signal strength. However, many morphological and electrophysiological observations are at odds with this view. Only 10–20% of the synapses found on geniculate relay neurons are retinal in origin. Roughly half of all synapses derive from cells in layer VI of visual cortex; roughly one third are inhibitory and GABAergic, derived either from interneurons or from cells of the nearby perigeniculate nucleus. Most of the remaining synapses probably derive from cholinergic, noradrenergic, and serotonergic sites within the brainstem reticular formation. Moreover, recent biophysical studies have revealed several ionic currents present in virtually all thalamic neurons. One is a Ca2+-dependent K+ current underlying the afterhyperpolarization (or the IAHP), which may last up to 100–200 ms following an action potential. Activation of the IAHP leads to spike frequency adaptation in response to a sustained, suprathreshold input. Intracellular recordings from other neuronal preparations have shown that the IAHP can be blocked by noradrenalin or acetylcholine, leading to an increased cellular excitability. Another ionic current results from a voltage- and time-dependent Ca2+ conductance that produces a low threshold spike. Activation of this conductance transforms a geniculate neuron from a state of faithful relay of information to one of bursting behavior that bears little relationship to the activity of its retinal afférents. We propose that state-dependent gating of geniculate relay cells, which may represent part of the neuronal substrate involved in certain forms of selective visual attention, can be effected through at least three different mechanisms: (1) conventional GABAergic inhibition, which is largely controlled via brainstem and cortical afferents through interneurons and perigeniculate cells; (2) the IAHP, which is controlled via noradrenergic and cholinergic afferents from the brainstem reticular formation; and (3) the low threshold spike, which may be controlled by GABAergic inputs, cholinergic inputs, and/or the corticogeniculate input, although other possibilities also exist. Furthermore, it seems likely that gating functions involving the corticogeniculate pathway are suited to attentional processes within the visual domain (e.g., saccadic suppression), whereas brain-stem inputs seem more likely to have more global effects that switch attention between sensory systems. In any case, it is now abundantly clear that geniculate circuitry and the intrinsic electrophysiological properties of geniculate neurons are no longer compatible with the notion that the lateral geniculate nucleus serves as a simple relay.

Key words

Lateral geniculate nucleus Retinogeniculate gating Attentional mechanisms Neuronal integration Thalamic function 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. M. Sherman
    • 1
  • C. Koch
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Neurobiology and BehaviorGraduate Biology Building, State University of New YorkStony BrookUSA
  2. 2.Center for Biological Information Processing and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, E 25-201, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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