• rat;
  • cerebral cortex;
  • neocortex;
  • pontine nuclei;
  • cerebro-pontine projection;
  • compartmentalization;
  • fractured map;
  • double anterograde tracing, barrel field


Understanding the interaction of the cerebral cortex and cerebellum requires knowledge of the highly complex spatial characteristics of cerebro-cerebellar signal transfer. Cerebro-pontine fibers from one neocortical site terminate in several sharply demarcated patches across large parts of the pontine nuclei (PN), and fibers from different neocortical areas terminate in the same pontine region. To determine whether projections from segregated neocortical sites overlap in the PN, we studied double anterograde tracing of cerebro-pontine terminals from large parts of rat neocortex. In none of these experiments, including double injection into two functionally related areas, were we able to demonstrate overlapping patches, although close spatial relationships were always detected. This non-overlapping distribution is consistent with a compartmentalized organization of the cerebro-pontine projection and may be the basis of the fractured type of maps found in the cerebellar granular layer. The critical distance between two sites on the neocortical surface that project to non-overlapping patches in the PN was found to be 600 μm, by using double injection within the whisker representation of the primary somatosensory area. This matches the diameter of dendritic trees of layer 5 projection neurons, indicating that non-overlapping populations of neocortical projection neurons possess non-overlapping patches of pontine terminals. Estimations based on this critical distance and the pontine volume anterogradely labeled by one injection site indicate that the size of the PN may be well suited to accommodate a complete set of non-overlapping pontine patches from all possible neocortical sites. J. Comp. Neurol. 435:418–432, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.