Prenatal thalamic waves regulate cortical area size prior to sensory processing

Nat Commun. 2017 Feb 3;8:14172. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14172.


The cerebral cortex is organized into specialized sensory areas, whose initial territory is determined by intracortical molecular determinants. Yet, sensory cortical area size appears to be fine tuned during development to respond to functional adaptations. Here we demonstrate the existence of a prenatal sub-cortical mechanism that regulates the cortical areas size in mice. This mechanism is mediated by spontaneous thalamic calcium waves that propagate among sensory-modality thalamic nuclei up to the cortex and that provide a means of communication among sensory systems. Wave pattern alterations in one nucleus lead to changes in the pattern of the remaining ones, triggering changes in thalamic gene expression and cortical area size. Thus, silencing calcium waves in the auditory thalamus induces Rorβ upregulation in a neighbouring somatosensory nucleus preluding the enlargement of the barrel-field. These findings reveal that embryonic thalamic calcium waves coordinate cortical sensory area patterning and plasticity prior to sensory information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Female
  • Gap Junctions / metabolism
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Orphan Nuclear Receptors / genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / anatomy & histology*
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / embryology*
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / metabolism
  • Ventral Thalamic Nuclei / physiology
  • Vision, Ocular


  • Orphan Nuclear Receptors
  • Calcium