The neurons in the cortical white matter (WM neurons) originate from the first set of postmitotic neurons that migrates from the ventricular zone. In particular, they arise in the subplate that contains the earliest cells generated in the telencephalon, prior to the appearance of neurons in gray matter cortical layers. These cortical WM neurons are very numerous during development, when they are thought to participate in transient synaptic networks, although many of these cells later die, and relatively few cells survive as WM neurons in the adult. We used light and electron microscopy to analyze the distribution and density of WM neurons in various areas of the adult human cerebral cortex. Furthermore, we examined the perisomatic innervation of these neurons and estimated the density of synapses in the white matter. Finally, we examined the distribution and neurochemical nature of interneurons that putatively innervate the somata of WM neurons. From the data obtained, we can draw three main conclusions: first, the density of WM neurons varies depending on the cortical areas; second, calretinin-immunoreactive neurons represent the major subpopulation of GABAergic WM neurons; and, third, the somata of WM neurons are surrounded by both glutamatergic and GABAergic axon terminals, although only symmetric axosomatic synapses were found. By contrast, both symmetric and asymmetric axodendritic synapses were observed in the neuropil. We discuss the possible functional implications of these findings in terms of cortical circuits.
© 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.