That's indeed what excitatory neurons do, but the researchers wanted to know what role the inhibitory neurons were playing, especially because the balance of inhibitory and excitatory activity in the tectum varied with different stimuli.
To find out, they chemically blocked inhibitory neurons in the tectum in some tadpoles, chemically enhanced their activity in others and left still other tadpoles unaltered as controls. They found that when they altered the degree of inhibition in either direction, the output selectivity for an oncoming stimulus was lost. When inhibition was blocked, the individual excitatory cells lost their selectivity, too. When inhibition was enhanced, the individual excitatory cells retained their selectivity but could not project a signal collectively.
Khakhalin said the evidence seems to support the idea of inhibitory cells as facilitators of network function. They were not necessarily responsible for making the tectum selective. Instead, their ability to moderate excitation allowed the network of cells to function so that an organized signal from the individual excitatory neurons could emerge from the tectum.
The team was able to use these findings to create a conceptual model of the collision stimulus circuitry.
Khakhalin's hypothesis of how it works is that inhibitory/excitatory balance allows the tectum to build up a necessary degree of excitement about the stimulus of interest (e.g. something has been getting bigger) while still allowing enough "calm" to consider the next moment wave of input (it just got bigger again).
Aizenman said the paper illustrates broader approach that his lab is applying to fundamental neuroscience ques
|Contact: David Orenstein|