Background: Sensorimotor gating is a fundamental neural filtering process that allows attention to be focused on a given stimulus. Sensory gating, commonly measured using the prepulse inhibition (PPI) of the auditory startle reflex task, is impaired in patients suffering from various neurological and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia. Because PPI deficits are often associated with attention and cognitive impairments, they are widely used as biomarkers in pre-clinical research for anti-psychotic drug screening. Yet, the neurotransmitter systems and synaptic mechanisms underlying PPI are still not resolved, even under physiological conditions. Recent evidence ruled out the longstanding hypothesis that PPI is mediated by midbrain cholinergic inputs to the caudal pontine reticular nucleus (PnC). Instead, glutamatergic, glycinergic and GABAergic inhibitory mechanisms are now suggested to be crucial for PPI, at the PnC level. Since amygdalar dysfunctions affect PPI and are common to pathologies displaying sensorimotor gating deficits, the present study was designed to test that direct projections to the PnC originating from the amygdala, contribute to PPI. Results: Using Wild Type and transgenic mice expressing eGFP under the control of the glycine transporter type 2 promoter (GlyT2-eGFP mice), we first employed tract-tracing, morphological reconstructions and immunohistochemical analyses to demonstrate that the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) sends glutamatergic inputs latero-ventrally to PnC neurons, including GlyT2+ cells. Then, we showed the contribution of the CeA-PnC excitatory synapses to PPI in vivo by demonstrating that optogenetic inhibition of this connection decreases PPI, and optogenetic activation induces partial PPI. Finally, in GlyT2-Cre mice, whole-cell recordings of GlyT2+ PnC neurons in vitro paired with optogenetic stimulation of CeA fibers, as well as photo-inhibition of GlyT2+ PnC neurons in vivo, allowed us to implicate GlyT2+ neurons in the PPI pathway. Conclusions: Our results uncover a feed-forward inhibitory mechanism within the brainstem startle circuit by which amygdalar glutamatergic inputs and GlyT2+ PnC neurons play a key role in meditating PPI. We are providing new insights to the clinically-relevant theoretical construct of PPI, which is disrupted in various neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental diseases.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience