Segregation of feedforward and feedback projections in mouse visual cortex

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Abstract

Hierarchical organization is a common feature of mammalian neocortex. Neurons that send their axons from lower to higher areas of the hierarchy are referred to as “feedforward” (FF) neurons, whereas those projecting in the opposite direction are called “feedback” (FB) neurons. Anatomical, functional, and theoretical studies suggest that these different classes of projections play fundamentally different roles in perception. In primates, laminar differences in projection patterns often distinguish the two projection streams. In rodents, however, these differences are less clear, despite an established hierarchy of visual areas. Thus the rodent provides a strong test of the hypothesis that FF and FB neurons form distinct populations. We tested this hypothesis by injecting retrograde tracers into two different hierarchical levels of mouse visual cortex (area 17 and anterolateral area [AL]) and then determining the relative proportions of double-labeled FF and FB neurons in an area intermediate to them (lateromedial area [LM]). Despite finding singly labeled neurons densely intermingled with no laminar segregation, we found few double-labeled neurons (≈5% of each singly labeled population). We also examined the development of FF and FB connections. FF connections were present at the earliest timepoint we examined (postnatal day 2, P2), while FB connections were not detectable until P11. Our findings indicate that, even in cortices without laminar segregation of FF and FB neurons, the two projection systems are largely distinct at the neuronal level and also differ with respect to the timing of their axonal outgrowth. J. Comp. Neurol. 519:3672–3683, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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