In vivo imaging of neural circuit formation in the neonatal mouse barrel cortex

Dev Growth Differ. 2020 Oct;62(7-8):476-486. doi: 10.1111/dgd.12693. Epub 2020 Oct 26.


Higher brain function in mammals primarily relies on complex yet sophisticated neuronal circuits in the neocortex. In early developmental stages, neocortical circuits are coarse. Mostly postnatally, the circuits are reorganized to establish mature precise connectivity, in an activity-dependent manner. These connections underlie adult brain function. The rodent somatosensory cortex (barrel cortex) contains a barrel map in layer 4 (L4) and has been considered an ideal model for the study of postnatal neuronal circuit formation since the first report of barrels in 1970. Recently, two-photon microscopy has been used for analyses of neuronal circuit formation in the mammalian brain during early postnatal development. These studies have further highlighted the mouse barrel cortex as an ideal model. In particular, the unique dendritic projection pattern of barrel cortex L4 spiny stellate neurons (barrel neurons) is key for the precise one-to-one functional relationship between whiskers and barrels and thus an important target of studies. In this article, I will review the morphological aspects of postnatal development of neocortical circuits revealed by recent two-photon in vivo imaging studies of the mouse barrel cortex and other related works. The focus of this review will be on barrel neuron dendritic refinement during neonatal development.

Keywords: activity-dependent development; dendritic refinement; layer 4; two-photon microscopy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / growth & development
  • Neurites / metabolism*
  • Somatosensory Cortex* / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex* / growth & development
  • Vibrissae* / cytology
  • Vibrissae* / innervation
  • Vibrissae* / metabolism