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Keywords:

  • zinc;
  • retrograde;
  • selenium;
  • cholera toxin b;
  • whisker;
  • somatosensory cortex;
  • cerebral cortex

Abstract

The barrel cortex of rodents is densely innervated by a prominent subclass of glutamatergic neurons that sequester and release zinc from their synaptic boutons. These neurons may play an important role in barrel cortex function and plasticity, as zinc has been shown to modulate synaptic function by regulating neurotransmitter release, excitatory and inhibitory amino acid receptors, and second messenger signaling cascades. Here, we utilized intracortical infusions of sodium selenite to identify the source of the zincergic innervation to the mouse barrel cortex. Our results demonstrate that the majority of zincergic projections to the barrel cortex arose from ipsilateral and callosal neurons, situated in cortical layers 2/3 and 6. Regionally, these labeled neurons were most abundant within the barrel cortex itself, posterior parietal association cortex, secondary somatosensory cortex, and motor cortex. Labeled neurons were also found in other somatosensory regions corresponding to the trunk, fore- and hindlimb, as well as more distant regions such as the visual, rhinal, dorsal peduncular and insular cortices, the claustrum, and lateral and basolateral amygdaloid nuclei. Further, some mice were injected with the retrograde tracer cholera toxin subunit B to compare retrograde labeling of zincergic neurons with that of the general population of neurons innervating the barrel cortex. Our data indicate that all cortical regions providing inputs to the barrel cortex possess a zincergic component, whereas those from thalamic or brainstem structures do not. These findings demonstrate that zincergic pathways comprise a chemospecific associational network that reciprocally interconnects the barrel cortex with other cortical and limbic structures. J. Comp. Neurol. 486:48–60, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.