Cellular Organization of Cortical Barrel Columns is Whisker-specific

The cellular organization of the cortex is of fundamental importance for elucidating the structural principles that underlie its functions. It has been suggested that reconstructing the structure and synaptic wiring of the elementary functional building block of mammalian cortices, the cortical column, might suffice to reverse engineer and simulate the functions of entire cortices. In the vibrissal area of rodent somatosensory cortex, whisker-related “barrel” columns have been referred to as potential cytoarchitectonic equivalents of functional cortical columns. Here, we investigated the structural stereotypy of cortical barrel columns by measuring the 3D neuronal composition of the entire vibrissal area in rat somatosensory cortex and thalamus. We found that the number of neurons per cortical barrel column and thalamic “barreloid” varied substantially within individual animals, increasing by ∼2.5-fold from dorsal to ventral whiskers. As a result, the ratio between whisker-specific thalamic and cortical neurons was remarkably constant. Thus, we hypothesize that the cellular architecture of sensory cortices reflects the degree of similarity in sensory input and not columnar and/or cortical uniformity principles.

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Meyer HS, Egger R, Guesta JM, Foerster R, Reisslc S, and Oberlaender M:
Cellular organization of cortical barrel columns is whisker-specific

PNAS 110 (47): 19113–18 (2013); doi: 10.1073/pnas.1312691110