Vibrissae representation in subcortical trigeminal centers of the neonatal rat


  • Research supported by NSF Grant GB 41294


In the neonatal rat differential activity levels of the metabolic enzyme succinic dehydrogenase (SDH) reveal intricately detailed segmentation in the neuropil of the spinal and principal trigeminal nuclei of the brainstem and in the ventrobasal complex of the thalamus. The segmentation occurs in the portions of these nuclei that electrophysiological evidence has indicated to be related to the mystacial vibrissae and sinus hairs on the face of the rat. Indeed, the pattern of segmentation in each nucleus replicates the topographic distribution of the vibrissae and sinus hairs. Further, within the spinal trigeminal nucleus, there appear to be two distinct representations of the vibrissae, one in the subnucleus caudalis and a second in the subnucleus interpolaris. Examination of these patterns of segmentation indicates that the large mystacial vibrissae and sinus hairs on the face of the young rat are somatotopically represented three times within the trigeminal complex, as straight cylinders of neuropil, and once in the ventrobasal complex, as curved cylinders of neuropil.

Neonatal vibrissae damage leads to an aberrant organization of the segmentation in the spinal trigeminal nucleus and the ventrobasal complex. In the spinal trigeminal nucleus, the SDH activity in areas associated with damaged vibrissae is of a lower than normal density, and patterns are indistinct. However, rows of clusters associated with the adjacent normal vibrissae are apparent and appear to be enlarged. In the ventrobasal complex, vibrissae damage results in bands of normal density SDH activity where rows of segmented clusters would normally be present. Comparison of these data to the cortical data in the previous paper (Killackey and Belford, '79) indicates that cortical and nuclear structures can have aspects of their development controlled by similar mechanisms.