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Keywords:

  • adeno-associated virus;
  • axonal projection;
  • barrel cortex;
  • lentivirus;
  • mouse

Abstract

The primary somatosensory barrel cortex processes tactile vibrissae information, allowing rodents to actively perceive spatial and textural features of their immediate surroundings. Each whisker on the snout is individually represented in the neocortex by an anatomically identifiable ‘barrel’ specified by the segregated termination zones of thalamocortical axons of the ventroposterior medial nucleus, which provide the primary sensory input to the neocortex. The sensory information is subsequently processed within local synaptically connected neocortical microcircuits, which have begun to be investigated in quantitative detail. In addition to these local synaptic microcircuits, the excitatory pyramidal neurons of the barrel cortex send and receive long-range glutamatergic axonal projections to and from a wide variety of specific brain regions. Much less is known about these long-range connections and their contribution to sensory processing. Here, we review current knowledge of the long-range axonal input and output of the mouse primary somatosensory barrel cortex. Prominent reciprocal projections are found between primary somatosensory cortex and secondary somatosensory cortex, motor cortex, perirhinal cortex and thalamus. Primary somatosensory barrel cortex also projects strongly to striatum, thalamic reticular nucleus, zona incerta, anterior pretectal nucleus, superior colliculus, pons, red nucleus and spinal trigeminal brain stem nuclei. These long-range connections of the barrel cortex with other specific cortical and subcortical brain regions are likely to play a crucial role in sensorimotor integration, sensory perception and associative learning.