Patterns of neuronal firing in the human lateral thalamus during sleep and wakefulness
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The firing patterns of thalamic neurons in mammals undergo a dramatic change as the animal's state changes between sleep and wakefulness. During sleep the normal tonic firing of thalamic neurons changes into a slower bursting mode characterized by repetitive activation of a low-threshold calcium (Ca2+) current. The present report describes the patterns of thalamic neuronal firing during sleep and wakefulness in one human patient. Extracellular single neuron activity was recorded during functional stereotactic surgery in the thalamus of a patient with chronic pain, who was observed to fall asleep during the recording. Evolutive power spectra of the thalamic slow wave were used in place of cortical encephalography to confirm the patient's states of sleep and wakefulness. Twenty-nine sites were observed in motor and somatosensory thalamus (Vop, Vim, and Vc) that were characterized by the presence of neurons with bursting activity when the patient was asleep. Such bursting was not observed in the patient when she was awakened. At 14 of these sites we were able to discriminate the bursting activity of single units. In each case the cell stopped firing or its bursting was replaced by a tonic firing pattern when the patient was awakened. In three cases the patient began to lapse back into sleep and the neuron resumed firing in a bursting pattern once again. None of these units had a peripheral receptive field (RF), while several other units recorded in nearby regions that did not fire in a bursting pattern during sleep had kinesthetic or cutaneous RFs. Analysis of the intraburst firing pattern revealed increasing interspike intervals (ISI) for successive action potentials in a burst and that the duration of the first ISI in the burst decreased as the number of ISIs increased. This pattern is similar to that reported to occur as a result of a calcium spike. These data have confirmed for the first time that state-dependent changes in thalamic firing exist in the human and that the physiological substrates at the thalamic level that are involved in human sleep are similar to those observed in animals.
Key wordsThalamus Sleep Calcium spike Bursting Human
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