Laminar and dorsoventral molecular organization of the medial entorhinal cortex revealed by large-scale anatomical analysis of gene expression

PLoS Comput Biol. 2015 Jan 23;11(1):e1004032. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004032. eCollection 2015 Jan.


Neural circuits in the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) encode an animal's position and orientation in space. Within the MEC spatial representations, including grid and directional firing fields, have a laminar and dorsoventral organization that corresponds to a similar topography of neuronal connectivity and cellular properties. Yet, in part due to the challenges of integrating anatomical data at the resolution of cortical layers and borders, we know little about the molecular components underlying this organization. To address this we develop a new computational pipeline for high-throughput analysis and comparison of in situ hybridization (ISH) images at laminar resolution. We apply this pipeline to ISH data for over 16,000 genes in the Allen Brain Atlas and validate our analysis with RNA sequencing of MEC tissue from adult mice. We find that differential gene expression delineates the borders of the MEC with neighboring brain structures and reveals its laminar and dorsoventral organization. We propose a new molecular basis for distinguishing the deep layers of the MEC and show that their similarity to corresponding layers of neocortex is greater than that of superficial layers. Our analysis identifies ion channel-, cell adhesion- and synapse-related genes as candidates for functional differentiation of MEC layers and for encoding of spatial information at different scales along the dorsoventral axis of the MEC. We also reveal laminar organization of genes related to disease pathology and suggest that a high metabolic demand predisposes layer II to neurodegenerative pathology. In principle, our computational pipeline can be applied to high-throughput analysis of many forms of neuroanatomical data. Our results support the hypothesis that differences in gene expression contribute to functional specialization of superficial layers of the MEC and dorsoventral organization of the scale of spatial representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Entorhinal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Entorhinal Cortex / chemistry*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / growth & development*
  • Entorhinal Cortex / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Molecular Imaging / methods
  • Organ Specificity / physiology

Associated data

  • GEO/GSE63300