Substantial evidence indicates that the locus ceruleus (LC)-norepinephrine (NE) projection system regulates behavioral state and state-dependent processing of sensory information. Tonic LC discharge (0.1-5.0 Hz) is correlated with levels of arousal and demonstrates an optimal firing rate during good performance in a sustained attention task. In addition, studies have shown that locally applied NE or LC stimulation can modulate the responsiveness of neurons, including those in the thalamus, to nonmonoaminergic synaptic inputs. Many recent investigations further indicate that within sensory relay circuits of the thalamus both general and specific features of sensory information are represented within the collective firing patterns of like-modality neurons. However, no studies have examined the impact of NE or LC output on the discharge properties of ensembles of functionally related cells in intact, conscious animals. Here, we provide evidence linking LC neuronal discharge and NE efflux with LC-mediated modulation of single-neuron and neuronal ensemble representations of sensory stimuli in the ventral posteriomedial thalamus of waking rats. As such, the current study provides evidence that output from the LC across a physiologic range modulates single thalamic neuron responsiveness to synaptic input and representation of sensory information across ensembles of thalamic neurons in a manner that is consistent with the well documented actions of LC output on cognition.
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