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Neuroscientist. 2007 Feb;13(1):49-61.

Development of cortical maps: perspectives from the barrel cortex.

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Program in Developmental Biology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston TX, USA.


One approach to examining how higher sensory, motor, and cognitive faculties emerge in the neocortex is to elucidate the underlying wiring principles of the brain during development. The mammalian neocortex is a layered structure generated from a sheet of proliferating ventricular cells that progressively divide to form specific functional areas, such as the primary somatosensory (S1) and motor (M1) cortices. The basic wiring pattern in each of these functional areas is based on a similar framework, but is distinct in detail. Functional specialization in each area derives from a combination of molecular cues within the cortex and neuronal activity-dependent cues provided by innervating axons from the thalamus. One salient feature of neocortical development is the establishment of topographic maps in which neighboring neurons receive input relayed from neighboring sensory afferents. Barrels, which are prominent sensory units in the somatosensory cortex of rodents, have been examined in detail, and data suggest that the initial, gross formation of the barrel map relies on molecular cues, but the refinement of this topography depends on neuronal activity. Several excellent reviews have been published on the patterning and plasticity of the barrel cortex and the precise targeting of ventrobasal thalamic axons. In this review, the authors will focus on the formation and functional maturation of synapses between thalamocortical axons and cortical neurons, an event that coincides with the formation of the barrel map. They will briefly review cortical patterning and the initial targeting of thalamic axons, with an emphasis on recent findings. The rest of the review will be devoted to summarizing their understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying thalamocortical synapse maturation and its role in barrel map formation.

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