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Neuroscience. 1998 Jun;84(3):669-83.

Postsynaptic pyramidal target selection by descending layer III pyramidal axons: dual intracellular recordings and biocytin filling in slices of rat neocortex.

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Department of Physiology, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London, UK.


Paired intracellular recordings in slices of adult rat neocortex with biocytin filling of synaptically connected neurons were used to investigate the pyramidal targets, in layer V, of layer III pyramidal axons. The time-course and sensitivity of excitatory postsynaptic potentials to current injected at the soma, and locations of close appositions between presynaptic axons and postsynaptic dendrites, indicated that the majority of contributory synapses were located in layer V. Within a "column" of tissue, radius < or = 250 microm, the probability that a randomly selected layer III pyramid innervated a layer V pyramid was 1 in 4 if the target cell was a burst firing pyramid with an apical dendritic tuft in layers II/I. If, however, the potential target was a regular spiking pyramid, the probability of connectivity was only 1 in 40, and none of the 13 anatomically identified postsynaptic layer V targets had a slender apical dendrite terminating in layers IV/III. Morphological reconstructions indicated that layer III pyramids select target layer V cells whose apical dendrites pass within 50-100 microm of the soma of the presynaptic pyramid in layer III and which have overlapping apical dendritic tufts in the superficial layers. The probability that a layer V cell would innervate a layer III pyramid lying within 250 microm of its apical dendrite was much lower (one in 58). Both presynaptic layer III pyramids and their large postsynaptic layer V targets could therefore access similar inputs in layers I/II, while small layer V pyramids could not. One prediction from the present data would be that neither descending layer V inputs to the striatum or thalamus, nor transcallosal connections would be readily activated by longer distance cortico-cortical "feedback" connections that terminated in layers I/II. These could, however, activate corticofugal pathways to the superior colliculus or pons, both directly and via layer III.

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