The emergence of somatotopic maps of the body in S1 in rats: the correspondence between functional and anatomical organization

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e32322. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032322. Epub 2012 Feb 29.


Most of what we know about cortical map development and plasticity comes from studies in mice and rats, and for the somatosensory cortex, almost exclusively from the whisker-dominated posteromedial barrel fields. Whiskers are the main effector organs of mice and rats, and their representation in cortex and subcortical pathways is a highly derived feature of murine rodents. This specialized anatomical organization may therefore not be representative of somatosensory cortex in general, especially for species that utilize other body parts as their main effector organs, like the hands of primates. For these reasons, we examined the emergence of whole body maps in developing rats using electrophysiological recording techniques. In P5, P10, P15, P20 and adult rats, multiple recordings were made in the medial portion of S1 in each animal. Subsequently, these functional maps were related to anatomical parcellations of S1 based on a variety of histological stains. We found that at early postnatal ages (P5) medial S1 was composed almost exclusively of the representation of the vibrissae. At P10, other body part representations including the hindlimb and forelimb were present, although these were not topographically organized. By P15, a clear topographic organization began to emerge coincident with a reduction in receptive field size. By P20, body maps were adult-like. This study is the first to describe how topography of the body develops in S1 in any mammal. It indicates that anatomical parcellations and functional maps are initially incongruent but become tightly coupled by P15. Finally, because anatomical and functional specificity of developing barrel cortex appears much earlier in postnatal life than the rest of the body, the entire primary somatosensory cortex should be considered when studying general topographic map formation in development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism
  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Female
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Hindlimb / physiology
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Male
  • Organ Size
  • Rats
  • Somatosensory Cortex / pathology
  • Time Factors


  • Electron Transport Complex IV