Whisker-related afferents in superior colliculus. J Neurophysiol 115: 2265–2279, 2016. First published February 10, 2016; doi:10.1152/jn.00028.2016.—Rodents use their whiskers to explore the environment, and the superior colliculus is part of the neural circuits that process this sensorimotor information. Cells in the intermediate layers of the superior colliculus integrate trigeminotectal afferents from trigeminal complex and corticotectal afferents from barrel cortex. Using histological methods in mice, we found that trigeminotectal and corticotectal synapses overlap somewhat as they innervate the lower and upper portions of the intermediate granular layer, respectively. Using electrophysiological recordings and optogenetics in anesthetized mice in vivo, we showed that, similar to rats, whisker deflections produce two successive responses that are driven by trigeminotectal and corticotectal afferents. We then employed in vivo and slice experiments to characterize the response properties of these afferents. In vivo, corticotectal responses triggered by electrical stimulation of the barrel cortex evoke activity in the superior colliculus that increases with stimulus intensity and depresses with increasing frequency. In slices from adult mice, optogenetic activation of channelrhodopsin-expressing trigeminotectal and corticotectal fibers revealed that cells in the intermediate layers receive more efficacious trigeminotectal, than corticotectal, synaptic inputs. Moreover, the efficacy of trigeminotectal inputs depresses more strongly with increasing frequency than that of corticotectal inputs. The intermediate layers of superior colliculus appear to be tuned to process strong but infrequent trigeminal inputs and weak but more persistent cortical inputs, which explains features of sensory responsiveness, such as the robust rapid sensory adaptation of whisker responses in the superior colliculus.
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