Reevaluation of the primary motor cortex connections with the thalamus in primates

J Comp Neurol. 2003 Mar 3;457(2):133-58. doi: 10.1002/cne.10539.


Six injections (approximately 1 mm in diameter) of biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) were placed in different locations of the primary motor cortex of the rhesus monkey. Anterograde and retrograde labeling patterns in the thalamus were charted and individual labeled axons traced in continuous serial sections. Both anterograde and retrograde labeling in the thalamus was extensive, spanning several millimeters mediolaterally and including ventral lateral, ventral anterior, centromedian, and centrolateral nuclei. Paracentral, mediodorsal, lateral posterior, and medial pulvinar nuclei were also labeled. Two basic types of corticothalamic axons were identified: small to medium-width, type 1 axons that formed large terminal fields with small boutons, and thick, type 2 axons that formed small terminal fields with large boutons. Within each group, subtypes were identified based on specific features of the axons and terminals: two subtypes of type 1 axons and four subtypes of type 2 axons. The results revealed multiple modes of corticothalamic connectivity: sparsely distributed type 1 axons, dense plexuses of type 1 axons, type 2 axon terminal fields either singly or in clusters, and mixed plexuses of type 1 and type 2 axons. Only some cells in the plexuses were retrogradely labeled; some plexuses did not contain any labeled neurons, and many retrogradely labeled neurons were in the regions devoid of anterograde labeling. These connectivity patterns differed between thalamic nuclei. The results revealed much more complex relationships between M1 and thalamus than were previously thought to exist. It is suggested that this connectivity is neither of exclusively a feedback nature nor perfectly reciprocal but is subserved by a multitude of channels, most likely originating from different populations of cortical neurons, and feeding into a variety of functionally different neuronal networks, with each processing specific information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Efferent Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Macaca mulatta / anatomy & histology*
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Thalamus / anatomy & histology*