Abstract: Impaired cortical maturation is a postulated mechanism in the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders, including schizophrenia. In the sensory cortex, activity relayed by the thalamus during a postnatal sensitive period is essential for proper cortical maturation. Whether thalamic activity also shapes prefrontal cortical maturation is unknown. We show that inhibiting the mediodorsal and midline thalamus in mice during adolescence leads to a long-lasting decrease in thalamo–prefrontal projection density and reduced excitatory drive to prefrontal neurons. It also caused prefrontal-dependent cognitive deficits during adulthood associated with disrupted prefrontal cross-correlations and task outcome encoding. Thalamic inhibition during adulthood had no long-lasting consequences. Exciting the thalamus in adulthood during a cognitive task rescued prefrontal cross-correlations, task outcome encoding and cognitive deficits. These data point to adolescence as a sensitive window of thalamocortical circuit maturation. Furthermore, by supporting prefrontal network activity, boosting thalamic activity provides a potential therapeutic strategy for rescuing cognitive deficits in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Authors: Laura J Benoit, Emma S Holt, Lorenzo Posani, Stefano Fusi, Alexander Z Harris, Sarah Canetta, and Christoph Kellendonk