Salient stimuli redirect attention and suppress ongoing motor activity. This attentional shift is thought to rely upon thalamic signals to the striatum to shift cortically driven action selection, but the network mechanisms underlying this interaction are unclear. Using a brain slice preparation that preserved cortico- and thalamostriatal connectivity, it was found that activation of thalamostriatal axons in a way that mimicked the response to salient stimuli induced a burst of spikes in striatal cholinergic interneurons that was followed by a pause lasting more than half a second. This patterned interneuron activity triggered a transient, presynaptic suppression of cortical input to both major classes of principal medium spiny neuron (MSN) that gave way to a prolonged enhancement of postsynaptic responsiveness in striatopallidal MSNs controlling motor suppression. This differential regulation of the corticostriatal circuitry provides a neural substrate for attentional shifts and cessation of ongoing motor activity with the appearance of salient environmental stimuli.
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