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      Prefrontal Parvalbumin Neurons in Control of Attention

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          While signatures of attention have been extensively studied in sensory systems, the neural sources and computations responsible for top-down control of attention are largely unknown. Using chronic recordings in mice, we found that fast-spiking parvalbumin (FS-PV) interneurons in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) uniformly show increased and sustained firing during goal-driven attentional processing, correlating to the level of attention. Elevated activity of FS-PV neurons on the timescale of seconds predicted successful execution of behavior. Successful allocation of attention was characterized by strong synchronization of FS-PV neurons, increased gamma oscillations, and phase locking of pyramidal firing. Phase-locked pyramidal neurons showed gamma-phase-dependent rate modulation during successful attentional processing. Optogenetic silencing of FS-PV neurons deteriorated attentional processing, while optogenetic synchronization of FS-PV neurons at gamma frequencies had pro-cognitive effects and improved goal-directed behavior. FS-PV neurons thus act as a functional unit coordinating the activity in the local mPFC circuit during goal-driven attentional processing.

          Graphical Abstract


          • Increased firing of mPFC PV interneurons is a signature of top-down attention
          • Attention is characterized by synchronization of mPFC PV neurons and elevated gamma
          • Local pyramidal neurons show gamma-phase-dependent rate modulation during attention
          • Synchronization of mPFC PV neurons at gamma frequencies has pro-cognitive effects


          A combination of electrophysiology and optogenetic manipulations reveal that inhibitory parvalbumin interneurons and gamma oscillations are central to prefrontal cortex's control of attention.

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          Most cited references 57

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          Driving fast-spiking cells induces gamma rhythm and controls sensory responses.

          Cortical gamma oscillations (20-80 Hz) predict increases in focused attention, and failure in gamma regulation is a hallmark of neurological and psychiatric disease. Current theory predicts that gamma oscillations are generated by synchronous activity of fast-spiking inhibitory interneurons, with the resulting rhythmic inhibition producing neural ensemble synchrony by generating a narrow window for effective excitation. We causally tested these hypotheses in barrel cortex in vivo by targeting optogenetic manipulation selectively to fast-spiking interneurons. Here we show that light-driven activation of fast-spiking interneurons at varied frequencies (8-200 Hz) selectively amplifies gamma oscillations. In contrast, pyramidal neuron activation amplifies only lower frequency oscillations, a cell-type-specific double dissociation. We found that the timing of a sensory input relative to a gamma cycle determined the amplitude and precision of evoked responses. Our data directly support the fast-spiking-gamma hypothesis and provide the first causal evidence that distinct network activity states can be induced in vivo by cell-type-specific activation.
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            Parvalbumin neurons and gamma rhythms enhance cortical circuit performance.

            Synchronized oscillations and inhibitory interneurons have important and interconnected roles within cortical microcircuits. In particular, interneurons defined by the fast-spiking phenotype and expression of the calcium-binding protein parvalbumin have been suggested to be involved in gamma (30-80 Hz) oscillations, which are hypothesized to enhance information processing. However, because parvalbumin interneurons cannot be selectively controlled, definitive tests of their functional significance in gamma oscillations, and quantitative assessment of the impact of parvalbumin interneurons and gamma oscillations on cortical circuits, have been lacking despite potentially enormous significance (for example, abnormalities in parvalbumin interneurons may underlie altered gamma-frequency synchronization and cognition in schizophrenia and autism). Here we use a panel of optogenetic technologies in mice to selectively modulate multiple distinct circuit elements in neocortex, alone or in combination. We find that inhibiting parvalbumin interneurons suppresses gamma oscillations in vivo, whereas driving these interneurons (even by means of non-rhythmic principal cell activity) is sufficient to generate emergent gamma-frequency rhythmicity. Moreover, gamma-frequency modulation of excitatory input in turn was found to enhance signal transmission in neocortex by reducing circuit noise and amplifying circuit signals, including inputs to parvalbumin interneurons. As demonstrated here, optogenetics opens the door to a new kind of informational analysis of brain function, permitting quantitative delineation of the functional significance of individual elements in the emergent operation and function of intact neural circuitry.
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              Mechanisms of gamma oscillations.

              Gamma rhythms are commonly observed in many brain regions during both waking and sleep states, yet their functions and mechanisms remain a matter of debate. Here we review the cellular and synaptic mechanisms underlying gamma oscillations and outline empirical questions and controversial conceptual issues. Our main points are as follows: First, gamma-band rhythmogenesis is inextricably tied to perisomatic inhibition. Second, gamma oscillations are short-lived and typically emerge from the coordinated interaction of excitation and inhibition, which can be detected as local field potentials. Third, gamma rhythm typically concurs with irregular firing of single neurons, and the network frequency of gamma oscillations varies extensively depending on the underlying mechanism. To document gamma oscillations, efforts should be made to distinguish them from mere increases of gamma-band power and/or increased spiking activity. Fourth, the magnitude of gamma oscillation is modulated by slower rhythms. Such cross-frequency coupling may serve to couple active patches of cortical circuits. Because of their ubiquitous nature and strong correlation with the "operational modes" of local circuits, gamma oscillations continue to provide important clues about neuronal population dynamics in health and disease.

                Author and article information

                Cell Press
                14 January 2016
                14 January 2016
                : 164
                : 1-2
                : 208-218
                [1 ]Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Retzius väg 8, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
                [2 ]Howard Hughes Medical Institute, W080 Clark Center, 318 Campus Drive West, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
                [3 ]Department of Bioengineering, W080 Clark Center, 318 Campus Drive West, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
                [4 ]Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, W080 Clark Center, 318 Campus Drive West, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
                Author notes
                []Corresponding author marie.carlen@
                © 2016 The Authors

                This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (


                Cell biology


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