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Keywords:

  • barrels;
  • barreloids;
  • trigeminal system;
  • somatosensory cortex;
  • region-specific gene knockout

Abstract

Development of whisker-specific neural patterns in the rodent somatosensory system requires NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-mediated activity. In cortex-specific NR1 knockout (CxNR1KO) mice, while thalamocortical afferents (TCAs) develop rudimentary whisker-specific patterns in the primary somatosensory (barrel) cortex, layer IV cells do not develop barrels or orient their dendrites towards TCAs. To determine the role of postsynaptic NMDARs in presynaptic afferent development and patterning in the barrel cortex, we examined the single TCA arbors in CxNR1KO mice between postnatal days (P) 1–7. Sparsely branched TCAs invade the cortical plate on P1 in CxNR1KO mice as in control mice. In control animals, TCAs progressively elaborate patchy terminals, mostly restricted to layer IV. In CxNR1KO mice, TCAs develop far more extensive arbors between P3–7. Their lateral extent is twice that of controls from P3 onwards. By P7, CxNR1KO TCAs have significantly fewer branch points and terminal endings in layers IV and VI but more in layers II/III and V than control mouse TCAs. Within expansive terminal arbors, CxNR1KO TCAs develop focal terminal densities in layer IV, corresponding to the rudimentary whisker-specific patches. Given that thalamic NMDARs are spared in CxNR1KO mice, the present results show that postsynaptic NMDARs play an important role in refinement of presynaptic afferent arbors and whisker-specific patterning in the developing barrel cortex. J. Comp. Neurol. 485:280–292, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.