Neuronal responses to hairy skin stimulation were simultaneously recorded in the ventral posterolateral nucleus (VPL) of the thalamus and primary somatosensory cortex (SI) of halothane-anesthetized cats. Among 233 thalamocortical neuron pairs, cross-correlation analysis revealed significant interactions in 120 pairs. Excitatory interactions were most prevalent and included influences occurring exclusively in the thalamocortical (41 pairs) or corticothalamic (23 pairs) directions as well as multiphasic interactions (40 pairs) in both directions. Only 16 pairs exhibited inhibitory interactions and 7 of these involved multiphasic combinations of excitation and inhibition. In 14 of these neuron pairs, inhibition was exerted in the corticothalamic direction. Receptive field (RF) overlap between thalamic and cortical neurons varied considerably, and neuronal interactions were more likely for neuron pairs sharing large portions of their combined RFs. Computer-controlled stimulation was delivered to multiple RF sites but only 46% of the neuron pairs displayed interactions at more than one stimulation site and only four neuron pairs showed interactions at all stimulus positions. When interactions occurred at multiple stimulus sites, 40% of these interactions were characterized by timing shifts where the time interval between VPL and SI discharges varied as much as 20 ms because of stimulus relocation. In nine neuron pairs, systematic shifts in stimulus position produced reversals in the temporal sequence of thalamic and cortical neuronal discharges. Functional interactions between thalamic and cortical neurons were detected during both spontaneous and stimulus-induced activity. Matched-sample comparisons of connection strength and half-widths of thalamocortical peaks during spontaneous and stimulus-induced activity indicated that functional interactions produced by cutaneous stimulation were significantly stronger and had less temporal variability than those occurring spontaneously.
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