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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e33105. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033105. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

Evidence that descending cortical axons are essential for thalamocortical axons to cross the pallial-subpallial boundary in the embryonic forebrain.

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Centre for Integrative Physiology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Developing thalamocortical axons traverse the subpallium to reach the cortex located in the pallium. We tested the hypothesis that descending corticofugal axons are important for guiding thalamocortical axons across the pallial-subpallial boundary, using conditional mutagenesis to assess the effects of blocking corticofugal axonal development without disrupting thalamus, subpallium or the pallial-subpallial boundary. We found that thalamic axons still traversed the subpallium in topographic order but did not cross the pallial-subpallial boundary. Co-culture experiments indicated that the inability of thalamic axons to cross the boundary was not explained by mutant cortex developing a long-range chemorepulsive action on thalamic axons. On the contrary, cortex from conditional mutants retained its thalamic axonal growth-promoting activity and continued to express Nrg-1, which is responsible for this stimulatory effect. When mutant cortex was replaced with control cortex, corticofugal efferents were restored and thalamic axons from conditional mutants associated with them and crossed the pallial-subpallial boundary. Our study provides the most compelling evidence to date that cortical efferents are required to guide thalamocortical axons across the pallial-subpallial boundary, which is otherwise hostile to thalamic axons. These results support the hypothesis that thalamic axons grow from subpallium to cortex guided by cortical efferents, with stimulation from diffusible cortical growth-promoting factors.

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