Non-additive modulation of synaptic transmission by serotonin, adenosine, and cholinergic modulators in the sensory thalamus

Ya Chin Yang*, Chun Chang Hu, Yi Chen Lai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

2 Scopus citations


The thalamus relays sensory information to the cortex. Oscillatory activities of the thalamocortical network are modulated by monoamines, acetylcholine, and adenosine, and could be the key features characteristic of different vigilance states. Although the thalamus is almost always subject to the actions of more than just one neuromodulators, reports on the modulatory effect of coexisting neuromodulators on thalamic synaptic transmission are unexpectedly scarce. We found that, if present alone, monoamine or adenosine decreases retinothalamic synaptic strength and short-term depression, whereas cholinergic modulators generally enhance postsynaptic response to presynaptic activity. However, coexistence of different modulators tends to produce non-additive effect, not predictable based on the action of individual modulators. Acetylcholine, acting via nicotinic receptors, can interact with either serotonin or adenosine to abolish most short-term synaptic depression. Moreover, the coexistence of adenosine and monoamine, with or without acetylcholine, results in robustly decreased synaptic strength and transforms short-term synaptic depression to facilitation. These findings are consistent with a view that acetylcholine is essential for an “enriched” sensory flow through the thalamus, and the flow is trimmed down by concomitant monoamine or adenosine (presumably for the wakefulness and rapid-eye movement, or REM, sleep states, respectively). In contrast, concomitant adenosine and monoamine would lead to a markedly “deprived” (and high-pass filtered) sensory flow, and thus the dramatic decrease of monoamine may constitute the basic demarcation between non-REM and REM sleep. The collective actions of different neuromodulators on thalamic synaptic transmission thus could be indispensable for the understanding of network responsiveness in different vigilance states.

Original languageEnglish
Article number60
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
StatePublished - 16 03 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Yang, Hu and Lai.


  • Neuromodulation
  • Sensory responsiveness
  • Short-term synaptic plasticity
  • Sleep-wakefulness regulation
  • Thalamocortical network


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