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Keywords:

  • barrel cortex;
  • cortical column;
  • layer VI;
  • morphological analysis;
  • pyramidal neuron

Abstract

In mice, barrels in layer IV of the somatosensory cortex correspond to the columnar representations of whisker follicles. In barrelless (BRL) mice, barrels are absent, but functionally, a columnar organization persists. Previously we characterized the aberrant geometry of thalamic projection of BRL mice using axonal reconstructions of individual neurons. Here we proceeded with the analysis of the intracortical projections from layer VI pyramidal neurons, to assess their contribution to the columnar organization. From series of tangential sections we reconstructed the axon collaterals of individual layer VI pyramidal neurons in the C2 barrel column that were labelled with biocytin [controls from normal (NOR) strain, 19 cells; BRL strain, nine cells]. Using six morphological parameters in a cluster analysis, we showed that layer VI neurons in NOR mice are distributed into four clusters distinguished by the radial and tangential extent of their intracortical projections. These clusters correlated with the cortical or subcortical projection of the main axon. In BRL mice, neurons were distributed within the same four clusters, but their projections to the granular and supragranular layers were significantly smaller and their tangential projection was less columnar than in NOR mice. However, in both strains the intracortical projections had a preference for the appropriate barrel column (C2), indicating that layer VI pyramidal cells could participate in the functional columnar organization of the barrel cortex. Correlative light and electron microscopy analyses provided morphometric data on the intracortical synaptic boutons and synapses of layer VI pyramidal neurons and revealed that projections to layer IV preferentially target excitatory dendritic spines and shafts.