Thalamic afferents of the rat barrel cortex: a light- and electron-microscopic study using Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin as an anterograde tracer

Somatosens Mot Res. 1993;10(1):1-16. doi: 10.3109/08990229309028819.


Anterograde tracers, Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin (PHA-L) and horseradish peroxidase (HRP), were used to study the thalamocortical afferents of the posteromedial barrel subfield (PMBSF) in rat primary somatosensory cortex (SI) at both light- and electron-microscopic levels. The PMBSF, also known as the barrel cortex, can be subdivided into barrel and interbarrel areas on the basis of cytoarchitectonic characteristics. Restricted injections confined to either the ventroposterior medial (VPM) or the rostral part of the posterior (Pom) nucleus allowed us to study and compare their projection patterns to the barrel cortex. We found that the interbarrel area receives inputs exclusively from the Pom, whereas the barrel area receives inputs from both the Pom and VPM. The laminar distributions of these two projections are largely segregated. After an injection of PHA-L or HRP into the VPM, labeled bouton-like swellings are found in layer VI and in layers IV through I of the barrel area, with the highest concentration in layer IV. On the other hand, after an injection of PHA-L or HRP into the Pom, labeled bouton-like swellings are distributed from upper layer V to layer I of the interbarrel area, as well as in layers V and I of the barrel area. Ultrastructural analysis showed that labeled bouton-like swellings of the VPM and the Pom pathways make synaptic contacts onto cortical neurons, and that these contacts are asymmetrical. Therefore, the VPM and the Pom projections are complementary to each other in the barrel cortex, and together they provide thalamic inputs to most layers of both the barrel and interbarrel areas. The differential patterns of terminations of the VPM and the Pom projections in the barrel cortex suggest that they may be involved in different types of cortical processing. Furthermore, our present findings may provide the anatomical basis for two parallel thalamocortical pathways, which previous physiological studies have indicated are each concerned with particular submodalities of somatic information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Rats
  • Somatosensory Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Thalamic Nuclei / anatomy & histology*
  • Vibrissae / innervation*


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • leukoagglutinins, plants