To determine whether thalamocortical synaptic circuits differ across cortical areas, we examined the ultrastructure of geniculocortical terminals in the tree shrew striate cortex to compare directly the characteristics of these terminals with those of pulvinocortical terminals (examined previously in the temporal cortex of the same species; Chomsung et al.  Cereb Cortex 20:997-1011). Tree shrews are considered to represent a prototype of early prosimian primates but are unique in that sublaminae of striate cortex layer IV respond preferentially to light onset (IVa) or offset (IVb). We examined geniculocortical inputs to these two sublayers labeled by tracer or virus injections or an antibody against the type 2 vesicular glutamate antibody (vGLUT2). We found that layer IV geniculocortical terminals, as well as their postsynaptic targets, were significantly larger than pulvinocortical terminals and their postsynaptic targets. In addition, we found that 9-10% of geniculocortical terminals in each sublamina contacted GABAergic interneurons, whereas pulvinocortical terminals were not found to contact any interneurons. Moreover, we found that the majority of geniculocortical terminals in both IVa and IVb contained dendritic protrusions, whereas pulvinocortical terminals do not contain these structures. Finally, we found that synaptopodin, a protein uniquely associated with the spine apparatus, and telencephalin (TLCN, or intercellular adhesion molecule type 5), a protein associated with maturation of dendritic spines, are largely excluded from geniculocortical recipient layers of the striate cortex. Together our results suggest major differences in the synaptic organization of thalamocortical pathways in striate and extrastriate areas.
Keywords: GABA; RRID:AB_10015246; RRID:AB_11202657; RRID:AB_1587626; RRID:AB_477652; RRID:nif-0000-30467; geniculocortical; pulvinocortical; pyramidal; spiny stellate; synaptopodin; telencephalin; type 2 vesicular glutamate transporter.
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