Cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain promote wakefulness by actions on neighboring non-cholinergic neurons: An opto-dialysis study

Janneke C. Zant, Tae Kim, Laszlo Prokai, Szabolcs Szarka, James McNally, James T. McKenna, Charu Shukla, Chun Yang, Anna V. Kalinchuk, Robert W. McCarley, Ritchie E. Brown, Radhika Basheer

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80 Scopus citations


Understanding the control of sleep-wake states by the basal forebrain (BF) poses a challenge due to the intermingled presence of cholinergic, GABAergic, and glutamatergic neurons. All three BF neuronal subtypes project to the cortex and are implicated in cortical arousal and sleep-wake control. Thus, nonspecific stimulation or inhibition studies do not reveal the roles of these different neuronal types. Recent studies using optogenetics have shown that “selective” stimulation of BF cholinergic neurons increases transitions between NREM sleep and wakefulness, implicating cholinergic projections to cortex in wake promotion. However, the interpretation of these optogenetic experiments is complicated by interactions that may occur within the BF. For instance, a recent in vitro study from our group found that cholinergic neurons strongly excite neighboring GABAergic neurons, including the subset of cortically projecting neurons, which contain the calcium-binding protein, parvalbumin (PV) (Yang et al., 2014). Thus, the wake-promoting effect of “selective” optogenetic stimulation of BF cholinergic neurons could be mediated by local excitation of GABA/PV or other non-cholinergic BF neurons. In this study, using a newly designed opto-dialysis probe to couple selective optical stimulation with simultaneous in vivo microdialysis, we demonstrated that optical stimulation of cholinergic neurons locally increased acetylcholine levels and increased wakefulness in mice. Surprisingly, the enhanced wakefulness caused by cholinergic stimulation was abolished by simultaneous reverse microdialysis of cholinergic receptor antagonists into BF. Thus, our data suggest that the wake-promoting effect of cholinergic stimulation requires local release of acetylcholine in the basal forebrain and activation of cortically projecting, non-cholinergic neurons, including the GABAergic/PV neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2057-2067
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - 10 Feb 2016


  • Basal forebrain
  • Cholinergic neurons
  • NREM to wake transitions
  • Opto-dialysis


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