Cranial primary afferents from the viscera enter the brain at the solitary tract nucleus (NTS), where their information is integrated for homeostatic reflexes. The organization of sensory inputs is poorly understood, despite its critical impact on overall reflex performance characteristics. Single afferents from the solitary tract (ST) branch within NTS and make multiple contacts onto individual neurons. Many neurons receive more than one ST input. To assess the potential interaction between converging afferents and proximal branching near to second-order neurons, we probed near the recorded soma in horizontal slices from rats with focal electrodes and minimal shocks. Remote ST shocks evoked monosynaptic excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs), and nearby focal shocks also activated monosynaptic EPSCs. We tested the timing and order of stimulation to determine whether focal shocks influenced ST responses and vice versa in single neurons. Focal-evoked EPSC response profiles closely resembled ST-EPSC characteristics. Mean synaptic jitters, failure rates, depression, and phenotypic segregation by capsaicin responsiveness were indistinguishable between focal and ST-evoked EPSCs. ST-EPSCs failed to affect focal-EPSCs within neurons, indicating that release sites and synaptic terminals were functionally independent and isolated from cross talk or neurotransmitter overflow. In only one instance, focal shocks intercepted and depleted the ST axon generating evoked EPSCs. Despite large numbers of functional contacts, multiple afferents do not appear to interact, and ST axon branches may be limited to close to the soma. Thus single or multiple primary afferents and their presynaptic active release sites act independently when they contact single second-order NTS neurons.
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