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Convergence and divergence of neurotransmitter action in human cerebral cortex.

  • D A McCormick
  • A Williamson
Publication Date
Oct 01, 1989


The postsynaptic actions of acetylcholine, adenosine, gamma-aminobutyric acid, histamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin were analyzed in human cortical pyramidal cells maintained in vitro. The actions of these six putative neurotransmitters converged onto three distinct potassium currents. Application of acetylcholine, histamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin all increased spiking by reducing spike-frequency adaptation, in part by reducing the current that underlies the slow after hyperpolarization. In addition, application of muscarinic receptor agonists to all neurons or of serotonin to middle-layer cells substantially reduced or blocked the M-current (a K+ current that is voltage and time dependent). Inhibition of neuronal firing was elicited by adenosine, baclofen (a gamma-aminobutyric acid type B receptor agonist), or serotonin and appeared to be due to an increase in the same potassium current by all three agents. These data reveal that individual neuronal currents in the human cerebral cortex are under the control of several putative neurotransmitters and that each neurotransmitter may exhibit more than one postsynaptic action. The specific anatomical connections of these various neurotransmitter systems, as well as their heterogeneous distribution of postsynaptic receptors and responses, allows each to make a specific contribution to the modulation of cortical activity.

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