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J Comp Neurol. 2000 Nov 13;427(2):302-31.

Auditory thalamocortical projections in the cat: laminar and areal patterns of input.

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Division of Neurobiology, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720-3200, USA.


Thalamocortical projections were studied in adult cats using biotinylated dextran amines, wheat germ agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase, and autoradiography with tritiated leucine and/or proline. The input from 7 architectonically defined nuclei to 14 auditory cortical fields was characterized qualitatively and quantitatively. The principal results were that 1) every thalamic nucleus projected to more than 1 field (range, 4-14 fields; mean, 7 fields); 2) only the projection from the ventral division to some primary fields (primary auditory cortex and posterior auditory cortex) had a periodic, clustered distribution, whereas the input from other divisions to nonprimary areas was continuous; 3) layers III-V received >85% of the total axonal profiles; 4) in most experiments, five or more layers were labeled; 5) the projections to nonprimary auditory areas had many laterally oriented axons; 6) the heaviest input to layer I in all experiments was usually in its upper half, suggesting a sublaminar arrangement; 7) the largest axonal trunks (up to 6 microm in diameter) arose from the medial division and ended in layer Ia, where they ran laterally for long distances; 8) there were three projection patterns: type 1 had its peak in layers III-IV with little input to layer I, and it arose from the ventral division and the dorsal superficial, dorsal, and suprageniculate nuclei of the dorsal division; type 2 had heavy labeling in layer I and less in layers III-IV, arising from the dorsal division nuclei primarily, especially the caudal dorsal and deep dorsal nuclei; and type 3 was a trimodal concentration in layers I, III-IV, and VI that originated chiefly in the medial division and had the lowest density of labeling; and 9) the quantitative profiles with the three methods were very similar. The results suggest that the subdivisions of the auditory thalamus have consistent patterns of laminar distribution to different cortical areas, that an average of five or more layers receive significant input in a specific area, that a given thalamic nucleus can influence areas as far as 20 mm apart, that the first information to arrive at the cortex may reach layer I by virtue of the giant axons, and that several laminar patterns of auditory thalamocortical projection exist. The view that the auditory thalamus (and perhaps other thalamic nuclei) serves mainly a relay function underestimates its many modes for influencing the cortex on a laminar basis.

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