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Keywords:

  • somatosensory;
  • reticular nucleus;
  • ventral posterior nucleus;
  • gap junctions

Abstract

The mounting physiological evidence for low-resistance electrical coupling between thalamic and cortical neurons contrasts with a lack of morphological data on gap junctions in thalamus and cortex. Connexin-36 is a neuronally specific protein associated with low-resistance gap junctions in the central nervous system. Connexin-36 localization was studied in the mouse somatosensory cortex and thalamus by using immunocytochemistry and immunoelectron microscopy. Expression of connexin-36 immunoreactivity is widespread in the forebrain and significantly enhanced in the barrel cortex and thalamic reticular nucleus during the second postnatal week, but it extends to other thalamic nuclei as well. At the electron microscopic level, pre- and postembedding immunogold labeling revealed that 70–76% of connexin-36-immunolabeled particles were localized at focal sites on apposed plasma membranes of cortical and thalamic dendrites; approximately 5% of the particles were associated with parasynaptic membranes; but on no occasion could overt, morphologically identifiable gap junctions be demonstrated in association with connexin-36 immunoreactivity. The widespread distribution of focal concentrations of connexin-36 subunits could provide a basis for the electrical coupling that exists between cortical and reticular thalamic neurons, but morphologically definable gap junctions may be too small to be adequately visualized by conventional immunoelectron microscopy. J. Comp. Neurol. 466:457–467, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.