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Abstract

In every station of the trigeminal system of the young rat, the segmented activity of the mitochondrial enzyme succinic dehydrogenase (SDH) clearly delineates the representation of the mystacial vibrissae. In the trigeminal complex of the medulla, three parallel representations can be seen, two in the spinal trigeminal nucleus and one in the principal trigeminal nucleus. In the next station, the ventrobasal complex of the thalamus, a single representation occurs. Likewise, layer IV of somatosensory cortex contains one representation of the vibrissae. Further, neonatal damage to the mystacial vibrissae results in anomalies within each representation.

The present study delineates both the normal development of subcortical trigeminal stations and the aberrant organization seen after vibrissae removal. The results of a similar study on somatosensory cortex (Killackey and Belford, '79) and the present data allow the comparison of the development of each of the five vibrissae representations in the trigeminal system.

In the brainstem, each of the three trigeminal complex representations are present at birth, although the pattern becomes more distinct over the first several days of life. Interestingly, vibrissae removal at birth induces an aberrant pattern that is distinct by postnatal Day 3. Although details are not equally discernible in each representation, the abnormalities appear to be similar. The SDH segmentation in the ventrobasal complex develops during postnatal Days 1 through 4. At Day 1, portions of the matrix of high density SDH activity break up into bands. Clusters can be discerned within these bands on Day 2. By Day 4 the pattern is sharply delineated. Vibrissae removal at birth results in anomalies that are a part of the initial development of segmentation, not a later reorganization.

Comparison of the present data with that of our previous studies indicates that there is a sequential development of the central somatosensory structures related to the vibrissae, beginning with the most peripheral station. Further, there are many similarities in the development of each station. There are also differences which are particularly important in comparing the trigeminal nuclei with the later stations. The unique features in the abnormal development of the trigeminal nuclei are likely due to their direct connections with the periphery.