Journal of neurophysiology

Strychnine-sensitive glycine receptors on pyramidal neurons in layers II/III of the mouse prefrontal cortex are tonically activated.

PMID 24872538


Processing of signals within the cerebral cortex requires integration of synaptic inputs and a coordination between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission. In addition to the classic form of synaptic inhibition, another important mechanism that can regulate neuronal excitability is tonic inhibition via sustained activation of receptors by ambient levels of inhibitory neurotransmitter, usually GABA. The purpose of this study was to determine whether this occurs in layer II/III pyramidal neurons (PNs) in the prelimbic region of the mouse medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). We found that these neurons respond to exogenous GABA and to the α4δ-containing GABAA receptor (GABA(A)R)-selective agonist gaboxadol, consistent with the presence of extrasynaptic GABA(A)R populations. Spontaneous and miniature synaptic currents were blocked by the GABA(A)R antagonist gabazine and had fast decay kinetics, consistent with typical synaptic GABA(A)Rs. Very few layer II/III neurons showed a baseline current shift in response to gabazine, but almost all showed a current shift (15-25 pA) in response to picrotoxin. In addition to being a noncompetitive antagonist at GABA(A)Rs, picrotoxin also blocks homomeric glycine receptors (GlyRs). Application of the GlyR antagonist strychnine caused a modest but consistent shift (∼15 pA) in membrane current, without affecting spontaneous synaptic events, consistent with the tonic activation of GlyRs. Further investigation showed that these neurons respond in a concentration-dependent manner to glycine and taurine. Inhibition of glycine transporter 1 (GlyT1) with sarcosine resulted in an inward current and an increase of the strychnine-sensitive current. Our data demonstrate the existence of functional GlyRs in layer II/III of the mPFC and a role for these receptors in tonic inhibition that can have an important influence on mPFC excitability and signal processing.