Acetylcholine (ACh) signaling is involved in a wide range of processes, including arousal, attention, and learning. An increasing number of studies indicate that cholinergic control of these functions is highly deterministic, mediated by synaptic afferents that generate reliable and precise responses in postsynaptic neurons. However, mechanisms that govern plastic changes of cholinergic synaptic strength are poorly understood, even though they are likely critical in shaping the impact of cholinergic inputs on neuronal networks. We have recently shown that in the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), synaptic release of ACh generates excitatory-inhibitory biphasic postsynaptic responses, mediated by the activation of α4β2 nicotinic (nAChRs) and M2 muscarinic receptors (mAChRs), respectively. Here, using voltage-clamp recordings from TRN neurons in thalamocortical slices of mice, we demonstrate that the activation of Group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) by ambient or synaptically released glutamate evokes transient increases of nicotinic EPSCs. Additionally, we find that the selective Group I mGluR agonist DHPG [(S)-3,5-dihydroxyphenylglycine] evokes long-term potentiation of nicotinic EPSCs (mGluR-nLTP), dependent on increases in postsynaptic Ca(2+) concentration and the activation of phospholipase C. Both the induction and the maintenance of mGluR-nLTP require synergistic activation of mGluR1 and mGluR5. Together, our results show that postsynaptic Group I mGluRs are critically involved in the regulation of cholinergic synaptic strength on different time scales, suggesting that cholinergic control of local thalamic circuits is highly context-dependent and regulated by the overall levels of glutamatergic afferent activity. Cholinergic signaling controls information processing and plasticity in neuronal circuits, but the mechanisms underlying the regulation of cholinergic synaptic strength on different time scales are unknown. Here we identify mGluR1 and mGluR5 as key elements in the dynamic regulation of cholinergic synaptic inputs onto neurons of the TRN. Our findings highlight potential mechanisms that regulate cholinergic signaling in the mammalian brain.
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