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All pathways targeting the thalamus terminate directly onto the thalamic projection cells. As these cells lack local excitatory interconnections, their computations are fundamentally defined by the type and local convergence patterns of the extrinsic inputs. These two key variables, however, remain poorly defined for the "higher order relay" (HO) nuclei that constitute most of the thalamus in large-brained mammals, including humans. Here, we systematically analyzed the input landscape of a representative HO nucleus of the mouse thalamus, the posterior nucleus (Po). We examined in adult male and female mice the neuropil distribution of terminals immunopositive for markers of excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmission, mapped input sources across the brain and spinal cord and compared the intranuclear distribution and varicosity size of axons originated from each input source. Our findings reveal a complex landscape of partly overlapping input-specific microdomains. Cortical layer 5 afferents from somatosensory and motor areas predominate in central and ventral Po but are relatively less abundant in dorsal and lateral portions of the nucleus. Excitatory inputs from the trigeminal complex, dorsal column nuclei, spinal cord and superior colliculus as well as inhibitory terminals from anterior pretectal nucleus and zona incerta are each abundant in specific Po regions and absent from others. Cortical layer 6 and reticular thalamic nucleus terminals are evenly distributed across Po. Integration of specific input motifs by particular cell subpopulations may be commonplace within HO nuclei and favor the emergence of multiple, functionally diverse input-output subnetworks.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT:Because thalamic projection neurons lack local interconnections, their output is essentially determined by the kind and convergence of the long-range inputs that they receive. Fragmentary evidence suggests that these parameters may vary within the "higher order" (HO) nuclei that constitute much of the thalamus, but such variation has not been systematically analyzed. Here, we mapped the origin and local convergence of all the extrinsic inputs reaching the Posterior nucleus, a typical HO nucleus of the mouse thalamus by combining multiple neuropil labeling and axon tracing methods. We report a complex mosaic of partly overlapping input-specific domains within Po. Integration of different input motifs by specific cell subpopulations in HO nuclei may favor the emergence of multiple, computationally specialized thalamocortical subnetworks.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

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