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Topological precision in the thalamic projection to neonatal mouse barrel cortex.

  • Author(s): Agmon, Ariel;
  • Yang, Lee T;
  • Jones, Edward G;
  • O'Dowd, Diane K
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Somatosensory thalamus and cortex in rodents contain topological representations of the facial whisker pad. The thalamic representation of a single whisker ("barreloid") is presumed to project exclusively to the cortical representation ("barrel") of the same whisker; however, it was not known when this correspondence is established during early development, nor how precise the thalamocortical projection is at birth, before formation of barrels and barreloids. To answer these questions, we retrogradely labeled thalamocortical projection neurons in fixed brain slices from 0-8 d old (P0-P8) mice, by placing paired deposits of two fluorescent dyes in adjacent barrels or (before barrel formation) in adjacent loci in upper cortical layers. At all ages studied, a negligible fraction of the retrogradely labeled cells was double labeled, implying that branches of single thalamocortical axons never extended within layer IV over an area wider than a single barrel. In P0 preparations, 70% of paired dye deposits placed 75-200 microns apart resulted in statistically significant segregation of labeled cell clusters in the thalamus. Quantitative analysis indicated that on P0 about 70% of thalamocortical axons were within 1.3 presumptive barrel diameters from their topologically precise target. In P4-P8 preparations, the great majority of thalamic cells retrogradely labeled from a single barrel were found in a single barreloid, implying a 1:1 projection of barreloids to barrels. The postnatal increase in topological precision was reproduced by a computer simulation, which assumed that many aberrant axons corrected their initial targeting error by extending terminal arborizations asymmetrically, towards the center of their appropriate barrel.

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