Signaling of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) via tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) plays a critical role in the maturation of cortical inhibition and controls expression of inhibitory interneuron markers, including the neuropeptide cortistatin (CST). CST is expressed exclusively in a subset of cortical and hippocampal GABAergic interneurons, where it has anticonvulsant effects and controls sleep slow-wave activity (SWA). We hypothesized that CST-expressing interneurons play a critical role in regulating excitatory/inhibitory balance, and that BDNF, signaling through TrkB receptors on CST-expressing interneurons, is required for this function. Ablation of CST-expressing cells caused generalized seizures and premature death during early postnatal development, demonstrating a critical role for these cells in providing inhibition. Mice in which TrkB was selectively deleted from CST-expressing interneurons were hyperactive, slept less and developed spontaneous seizures. Frequencies of spontaneous excitatory post-synaptic currents (sEPSCs) on CST-expressing interneurons were attenuated in these mice. These data suggest that BDNF, signaling through TrkB receptors on CST-expressing cells, promotes excitatory drive onto these cells. Loss of excitatory drive onto CST-expressing cells that lack TrkB receptors may contribute to observed hyperexcitability and epileptogenesis.
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