One of the urgent tasks of neuroscience is to understand how neuronal circuits operate, what makes them fail, and how to repair them when needed. Achieving this goal requires identifying the principal circuitry elements and their interactions with one another. However, what constitutes ‘an atom’ of a neuronal circuit, a neuronal type, is a complex question. In this review we focus on a class of cortical neurons that are exclusively identified by the expression of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT). The genetic profile of these VIP+/ChAT+ interneurons suggests that they can release both γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and acetylcholine (ACh). This hints to a specific potential role in the cortical circuitry. Yet the VIP+/ChAT+ interneurons are sparse (a mere 0.5% of the cortical neurons), which raises questions about their potential to significantly affect the circuit function. In view of recent developments in genetic techniques that allow for direct manipulation of these neurons, we provide a thorough and updated picture of the properties of the VIP+/ChAT+ interneurons. We discuss their genetic profile, their physiological and structural properties, and their input–output mapping in sensory cortices and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Then, we examine possible amplification mechanisms for mediating their function in the cortical microcircuit. Finally, we discuss directions for further exploration of the VIP+/ChAT+ population, focusing on its function during behavioral tasks as compared to the VIP+/ChAT− population. (Figure presented.).
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