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Cereb Cortex. 2012 May;22(5):996-1006. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr182. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

RORβ induces barrel-like neuronal clusters in the developing neocortex.

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  • 1MGH-HMS Center for Nervous System Repair, Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology, Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


Neurons in layer IV of the rodent whisker somatosensory cortex are tangentially organized in periodic clusters called barrels, each of which is innervated by thalamocortical axons transmitting sensory information from a single principal whisker, together forming a somatotopic map of the whisker pad. Proper thalamocortical innervation is critical for barrel formation during development, but the molecular mechanisms controlling layer IV neuron clustering are unknown. Here, we investigate the role in this mapping of the nuclear orphan receptor RORβ, which is expressed in neurons in layer IV during corticogenesis. We find that RORβ protein expression specifically increases in the whisker barrel cortex during barrel formation and that in vivo overexpression of RORβ is sufficient to induce periodic barrel-like clustering of cortical neurons. Remarkably, this clustering can be induced as early as E18, prior to innervation by thalamocortical afferents and whisker derived-input. At later developmental stages, these ectopic neuronal clusters are specifically innervated by thalamocortical axons, demonstrated by anterograde labeling from the thalamus and by expression of thalamocortical-specific synaptic markers. Together, these data indicate that RORβ expression levels control cytoarchitectural patterning of neocortical neurons during development, a critical process for the topographical mapping of whisker input onto the cortical surface.

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