Key points: The activity of local excitatory circuits of the subiculum has been suggested to be involved in the initiation of pathological activity in epileptic patients and experimental animal models of temporal lobe epilepsy. We have taken advantage of multimodal techniques to classify subicular cells in distinct subclasses and have investigated their morphofunctional properties and connectivity in vitro. Our results indicate that local subicular excitatory circuits are connected in a cell type-specific fashion and that synapses are preferentially established on basal vs. apical dendrites. We show that local excitatory circuits, isolated from extrasubicular inputs and pharmacologically disinhibited, are sufficient to initiate synchronous epileptiform activity in vitro. In conclusion, this work provides a high-resolution description of local excitatory circuits of the subiculum and highlights their mechanistic involvement in the generation of pathological activity. Abstract: The subiculum has been suggested to be involved in the initiation of pathological discharges in human patients and animal models of temporal lobe epilepsy. Although converging evidence has revealed the existence of functional diversity within its principal neurons, much less attention has been devoted to its intrinsic connectivity and whether its local excitatory circuits are sufficient to generate epileptiform activity. Here, we have directly addressed these two key points in mouse subicular slices. First, using multivariate techniques, we have distinguished two groups of principal cells, which we have termed type 1 and type 2. These subgroups roughly overlap with what were classically indicated as regular and bursting cells, and showed differences in the extension and complexity of their apical dendrites. Functional connectivity was found both between similar (homotypic) and different (heterotypic) types of cells, with a marked asymmetry within heterotypic pairs. Unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (uEPSPs) revealed a high degree of variability both in amplitude, failure rate, rise time and half-width. Post hoc analysis of functionally connected pairs suggested that the observed uEPSPs were mediated by few contact sites, predominantly located on the basal dendrites. When surgically isolated from extrasubicular excitatory afferents, pharmacologically disinhibited subicular slices generated hyper-synchronous discharges. Thus, we conclude that local subicular excitatory circuits, connected according to cell type-specific rules, are sufficient to promote epileptiform activity. This conclusion fits well with a previous suggestion that local subicular events, purely mediated by excitatory connections, may underlie the pre-ictal discharges that govern interictal–ictal transitions.
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