Dendritic Target Region-Specific Formation of Synapses Between Excitatory Layer 4 Neurons and Layer 6 Pyramidal Cells

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Excitatory connections between neocortical layer 4 (L4) and L6 are part of the corticothalamic feedback microcircuitry. Here we studied the intracortical element of this feedback loop, the L4 spiny neuron-to-L6 pyramidal cell connection. We found that the distribution of synapses onto both putative corticothalamic (CT) and corticocortical (CC) L6 pyramidal cells (PCs) depends on the presynaptic L4 neuron type but is independent of the postsynaptic L6 PC type. L4 spiny stellate cells establish synapses on distal apical tuft dendrites of L6 PCs and elicit slow unitary excitatory postsynaptic potentials (uEPSPs) in L6 somata. In contrast, the majority of L4 star pyramidal neurons target basal and proximal apical oblique dendrites of L6 PCs and show fast uEPSPs. Compartmental modeling suggests that the slow uEPSP time course is primarily the result of dendritic filtering. This suggests that the dendritic target specificity of the 2 L4 spiny neuron types is due to their different axonal projection patterns across cortical layers. The preferential dendritic targeting by different L4 neuron types may facilitate the generation of dendritic Ca2+ or Na+ action potentials in L6 PCs; this could play a role in synaptic gain modulation in the corticothalamic pathway.

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