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Keywords:

  • anterograde tracing;
  • convergence;
  • microstimulation;
  • motor cortex;
  • somatosensory cortex

Abstract

We used a dual anterograde-tracing paradigm to characterize the organization of corticocortical projections from primary somatosensory (SI) barrel cortex. In one group of rats, biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) and Fluoro-Ruby (FR) were injected into separate barrel columns that occupied the same row of barrel cortex; in the other group, the tracers were deposited into barrel columns residing in different rows. The labeled corticocortical terminals in the primary motor (MI) and secondary somatosensory (SII) cortices were plotted, and digital reconstructions of these plots were quantitatively analyzed. In all cases, labeled projections from focal tracer deposits in SI barrel cortex terminated in elongated, row-like strips of cortex that corresponded to the whisker representations of the MI or SII cortical areas. When both tracers were injected into separate parts of the same SI barrel row, FR- and BDA-labeled terminals tended to merge into a single strip of labeled MI or SII cortex. By comparison, when the tracers were placed in different SI barrel rows, both MI and SII contained at least two row-like FR- and BDA-labeled strips that formed mirror image representations of the SI injection sites. Quantitative analysis of these labeling patterns revealed three major findings. First, labeled overlap in SII was significantly greater for projections from the same barrel row than for projections from different barrel rows. Second, in the infragranular layers of MI but not in the supragranular layers, labeled overlap was significantly higher for projections from the same SI barrel row. Finally, in all layers of SII and in the infragranular layers of MI, the amount of labeled overlap was proportional to the proximity of the tracer injection sites. These results indicate that SI projections to MI and SII have an anisotropic organization that facilitates the integration of sensory information received from neighboring barrels that represent whiskers in the same row. J. Comp. Neurol. 466:525–544, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.