The solitary tract nucleus (NTS) conveys visceral information to diverse central networks involved in homeostatic regulation. Although afferent information content arriving at various CNS sites varies substantially, little is known about the contribution of processing within the NTS to these differences. Using retrograde dyes to identify specific NTS projection neurons, we recently reported that solitary tract (ST) afferents directly contact NTS neurons projecting to caudal ventrolateral medulla (CVLM) but largely only indirectly contact neurons projecting to the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN). Since intrinsic properties impact information transmission, here we evaluated potassium channel expression and somatodendritic morphology of projection neurons and their relation to afferent information output directed to PVN or CVLM pathways. In slices, tracer-identified projection neurons were classified as directly or indirectly (polysynaptically) coupled to ST afferents by EPSC latency characteristics (directly coupled, jitter < 200 μs). In each neuron, voltage-dependent potassium currents (IK) were evaluated and, in representative neurons, biocytin-filled structures were quantified. Both CVLM- and PVN-projecting neurons had similar, tetraethylammonium-sensitive IK. However, only PVN-projecting NTS neurons displayed large transient, 4aminopyridine-sensitive, A-type currents (IKA). PVN-projecting neurons had larger cell bodies with more elaborate dendritic morphology than CVLM-projecting neurons. ST shocks faithfully (> 75%) triggered action potentials in CVLM-projecting neurons but spike output was uniformly low (< 20%) in PVN-projecting neurons. Pre-conditioning hyperpolarization removed IKA inactivation and attenuated ST-evoked spike generation along PVN but not CVLM pathways. Thus, multiple differences in structure, organization, synaptic transmission and ion channel expression tune the overall fidelity of afferent signals that reach these destinations.
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