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J Comp Neurol. 2004 Aug 16;476(2):174-85.

Target-specific differences in somatodendritic morphology of layer V pyramidal neurons in rat motor cortex.

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Institute of Neuroscience (formerly Shanghai Brain Research Institute), Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 200031, China.


Dendritic geometry has been shown to be a critical determinant of information processing and neuronal computation. However, it is not known whether cortical projection neurons that target different subcortical nuclei have distinct dendritic morphologies. In this study, fast blue retrograde tracing in combination with intracellular Lucifer yellow injection and diaminobenzidine (DAB) photoconversion in fixed slices was used to study the morphological features of corticospinal, corticostriatal, and corticothalamic neurons in layer V of rat motor cortex. Marked differences in the distribution of soma, somal size, and dendritic profiles were found among the three groups of pyramidal neurons. Corticospinal neurons were large, were located in deep layer V, and had the most expansive dendritic fields. The apical dendrites of corticospinal pyramidal neurons were thick, spiny, and branched. In contrast, nearly all corticostriatal neurons were small cells located in superficial layer V. Their apical dendritic shafts were significantly more slender, though spiny like those of corticospinal neurons. Corticothalamic neurons, which were located in superficial layer V and in layer VI, had small or medium-sized soma, slender apical dendritic shafts, and dendrites that were largely spine free. This study indicates that, in layer V of rat motor cortex, each population of projection neurons has a unique somatodendritic morphology and suggests that distinct modes of cortical information processing are operative in corticospinal, corticostriatal, and corticothalamic neurons.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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