Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



School of Medicine



Committee Chair

Ariel Agmon


GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a pivotal role in balancing neuronal activity in the neocortex. They can be classified into different classes according to their variable morphological, electrophysiological, and neurochemical properties, including two major groups: parvalbumin-containing (PV+), fast-spiking (FS) cells and somatostatin-containing (SOM+) cells. Using transgenic mice, we identified two subgroups, distinct by all criteria, of SOM+ cells in the somatosensory (barrel) cortex of the mouse, one (called X94) in layer 4 and 5B, and the other one (X98) in deep layers (Ma et al., 2006). We found that X98 cells were calbindin-expressing (CB+), infragranular, layer 1--targeting "Martinotti" cells, and had a propensity to fire low-threshold calcium spikes, whereas X94 cells did not express CB, targeted mostly layer 4, discharged in stuttering pattern and with quasi "fast-spiking" properties. In the barrel cortex, it was previously shown that SOM+ cells mediate disynaptic inhibition in supragranular and infragranular layers. However, the roles of layer 4 SOM+ cells remain largely unknown. We used dual whole-cell recording to elucidate the synaptic circuits in layer 4 and the function of layer 4 SOM+ cells during cortical network activities. We found that layer 4 "X94" SOM+ cells received strongly facilitating excitatory input and generated relatively slow rising inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) compared to those evoked by FS cells. Strikingly, our data showed that SOM+ cells mediated strong synaptic inhibition of FS cells with connection probability greater than 90% in layer 4, but received very little reciprocal inhibition from FS cells, and no reciprocal inhibition from other SOM+ cells. Moreover, 100% of recorded SOM+-SOM+ cell pairs were electrically coupled with higher coupling ratio compared to that of electrically coupled FS cell pairs. In order to examine the functions of SOM+ cells, we applied 0 Mg2+ artificial cerebrospinal fluid (ACSF) to induce episodes of cortical network activity and observed that, during episodes of network activity, SOM+ cells fired robustly and synchronously, and produced strong inhibition of regular-spiking (RS) excitatory cells and inhibitory FS cells, especially the latter. Taken together, our data reveal that SOM+ cells in the barrel cortex can be sub-divided into different subtypes, and that layer 4 SOM+ cells exert a powerful inhibitory effect during high frequency network activity.