The present investigation is part of a broader effort to examine cortical areas that contribute to manual dexterity, reaching, and grasping. In this study we examine the thalamic connections of electrophysiologically defined regions in area 3a and architectonically defined primary motor cortex (M1). Our studies demonstrate that area 3a receives input from nuclei associated with the somatosensory system: the superior, inferior, and lateral divisions of the ventral posterior complex (VPs, VPi, and VPl, respectively). Surprisingly, area 3a receives the majority of its input from thalamic nuclei associated with the motor system, posterior division of the ventral lateral nucleus of the thalamus (VL), the mediodorsal nucleus (MD), and intralaminar nuclei including the central lateral nucleus (CL) and the centre median nucleus (CM). In addition, sparse but consistent projections to area 3a are from the anterior pulvinar (Pla). Projections from the thalamus to the cortex immediately rostral to area 3a, in the architectonically defined M1, are predominantly from VL, VA, CL, and MD. There is a conspicuous absence of inputs from the nuclei associated with processing somatic inputs (VP complex). Our results indicate that area 3a is much like a motor area, in part because of its substantial connections with motor nuclei of the thalamus and motor areas of the neocortex (Huffman et al.  Soc. Neurosci. Abstr. 25:1116). The indirect input from the cerebellum and basal ganglia via the ventral lateral nucleus of the thalamus supports its role in proprioception. Furthermore, the presence of input from somatosensory thalamic nuclei suggests that it plays an important role in somatosensory and motor integration.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.