Correlation between cortical state and locus coeruleus activity: Implications for sensory coding in rat barrel cortex

Zeinab Fazlali, Yadollah Ranjbar-Slamloo, Mehdi Adibi, Ehsan Arabzadeh

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Cortical state modulates the background activity of cortical neurons, and their evoked response to sensory stimulation. Multiple mechanisms are involved in switching between cortical states including various neuromodulatory systems. Locus Coeruleus (LC) is one of the major neuromodulatory nuclei in the brainstem with widespread projections throughout the brain and modulates the activity of cells and networks. Here, we quantified the link between the LC spontaneous activity, cortical state and sensory processing in the rat vibrissal somatosensory “barrel” cortex (BC). We simultaneously recorded unit activity from LC and BC along with prefrontal electroencephalogram (EEG) while presenting brief whisker deflections under urethane anesthesia. The ratio of low to high frequency components of EEG (referred to as the L/H ratio) was employed to identify cortical state. We found that the spontaneous activity of LC units exhibited a negative correlation with the L/H ratio. Cross-correlation analysis revealed that changes in LC firing preceded changes in the cortical state: the correlation of the LC firing profile with the L/H ratio was maximal at an average lag of −1.2 s. We further quantified BC neuronal responses to whisker stimulation during the synchronized and desynchronized states. In the desynchronized state, BC neurons showed lower stimulus detection threshold, higher response fidelity, and shorter response latency. The most prominent change was observed in the late phase of BC evoked activity (100–400 ms post stimulus onset): almost every BC unit exhibited a greater late response during the desynchronized state. Categorization of the BC evoked responses based on LC activity (into high and low LC discharge rates) resulted in highly similar response profiles compared to categorization based on the cortical state (low and high L/H ratios). These findings provide evidence for the involvement of the LC neuromodulatory system in desynchronization of cortical state and the consequent enhancement of sensory coding efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Neural Circuits
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cortical state
  • Desynchronized
  • Locus coeruleus
  • Neuromodulation
  • Somatosensory cortex
  • Synchronized
  • Vibrissal system

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