Inhibitory interneurons in the neocortex often connect in a promiscuous and extensive fashion, extending a “blanket of inhibition” on the circuit. This raises the problem of how can excitatory activity propagate in the midst of this widespread inhibition. One solution to this problem could be the vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) interneurons, which disinhibit other interneurons. To explore how VIP interneurons affect the local circuits, we use two-photon optogenetics to activate them individually in mouse visual cortex in vivo while measuring their output with two-photon calcium imaging. We find that VIP interneurons have narrow axons and inhibit nearby somatostatin interneurons, which themselves inhibit pyramidal cells. Moreover, via this lateral disinhibition, VIP cells in vivo make local and transient “holes” in the inhibitory blanket extended by SOM cells. VIP interneurons, themselves regulated by neuromodulators, may therefore enable selective patterns of activity to propagate through the cortex, by generating a “spotlight of attention”.
- Vasoactive intestinal peptide