Anatomy of the auditory thalamocortical system in the mongolian gerbil: Nuclear origins and cortical field-, layer-, and frequency-specificities

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Abstract

Knowledge of the anatomical organization of the auditory thalamocortical (TC) system is fundamental for the understanding of auditory information processing in the brain. In the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), a valuable model species in auditory research, the detailed anatomy of this system has not yet been worked out in detail. Here, we investigated the projections from the three subnuclei of the medial geniculate body (MGB), namely, its ventral (MGv), dorsal (MGd), and medial (MGm) divisions, as well as from several of their subdivisions (MGv: pars lateralis [LV], pars ovoidea [OV], rostral pole [RP]; MGd: deep dorsal nucleus [DD]), to the auditory cortex (AC) by stereotaxic pressure injections and electrophysiologically guided iontophoretic injections of the anterograde tract tracer biocytin. Our data reveal highly specific features of the TC connections regarding their nuclear origin in the subdivisions of the MGB and their termination patterns in the auditory cortical fields and layers. In addition to tonotopically organized projections, primarily of the LV, OV, and DD to the AC, a large number of axons diverge across the tonotopic gradient. These originate mainly from the RP, MGd (proper), and MGm. In particular, neurons of the MGm project in a columnar fashion to several auditory fields, forming small- and medium-sized boutons, and also hitherto unknown giant terminals. The distinctive layer-specific distribution of axonal endings within the AC indicates that each of the TC connectivity systems has a specific function in auditory cortical processing. J. Comp. Neurol. 522:2397–2430, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Here, we investigated the projections from the three subnuclei of the medial geniculate body (MGB), namely, its ventral, dorsal, and medial divisions, as well as from several of their subdivisions, to the auditory cortex of the Mongolian gerbil by means of stereotaxic pressure injections and electrophysiologically guided iontophoretic injections of the anterograde tracer biocytin. Our results reveal highly specific features of the thalamocortical connections regarding their nuclear origin in the MGB and their termination patterns in the auditory cortical fields and layers.

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