In the primary somatosensory cortex (SI), the body surface is mapped in a relatively continuous fashion, with adjacent body regions represented in adjacent cortical domains. In contrast, somatosensory maps found in regions of the cerebellar hemispheres, which are influenced by the SI through a monosynaptic link in the pontine nuclei, are discontinuous ("fractured") in organization. To elucidate this map transformation, the authors studied the organization of the first link in the SI-cerebellar pathway, the SI-pontine projection. After injecting anterograde axonal tracers into electrophysiologically defined parts of the SI, three-dimensional reconstruction and computer-graphic visualization techniques were used to analyze the spatial distribution of labeled fibers. Several target regions in the pontine nuclei were identified for each major body representation. The labeled axons formed sharply delineated clusters that were distributed in an inside-out, shell-like fashion. Upper lip and other perioral representations were located in a central core, whereas extremity and trunk representations were found more externally. The multiple clusters suggest that the pontine nuclei contain several representations of the SI map. Within each representation, the spatial relationships of the SI map are largely preserved. This corticopontine projection pattern is compatible with recently proposed principles for the establishment of subcortical topographic patterns during development. The largely preserved spatial relationships in the pontine somatotopic map also suggest that the transformation from an organized topography in SI to a fractured map in the cerebellum takes place primarily in the mossy fiber pontocerebellar projection.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.