Excitatory neuronal connectivity in the barrel cortex

Front Neuroanat. 2012 Jul 11;6:24. doi: 10.3389/fnana.2012.00024. eCollection 2012.


Neocortical areas are believed to be organized into vertical modules, the cortical columns, and the horizontal layers 1-6. In the somatosensory barrel cortex these columns are defined by the readily discernible barrel structure in layer 4. Information processing in the neocortex occurs along vertical and horizontal axes, thereby linking individual barrel-related columns via axons running through the different cortical layers of the barrel cortex. Long-range signaling occurs within the neocortical layers but also through axons projecting through the white matter to other neocortical areas and subcortical brain regions. Because of the ease of identification of barrel-related columns, the rodent barrel cortex has become a prototypical system to study the interactions between different neuronal connections within a sensory cortical area and between this area and other cortical as well subcortical regions. Such interactions will be discussed specifically for the feed-forward and feedback loops between the somatosensory and the somatomotor cortices as well as the different thalamic nuclei. In addition, recent advances concerning the morphological characteristics of excitatory neurons and their impact on the synaptic connectivity patterns and signaling properties of neuronal microcircuits in the whisker-related somatosensory cortex will be reviewed. In this context, their relationship between the structural properties of barrel-related columns and their function as a module in vertical synaptic signaling in the whisker-related cortical areas will be discussed.

Keywords: barrel cortex; cortical column; excitatory connections; long-range collaterals; pyramidal cell; somatosensory cortex; spiny stellate cell.