Functional topographic organization of the motor reticulothalamic pathway

Ying-Wan Lam, S Murray Sherman
Journal of Neurophysiology 2015 May 1, 113 (9): 3090-7
The thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) is a thin layer of GABAergic cells lying rostral and lateral to the dorsal thalamus, and its projection to thalamic relay cells (i.e., the reticulothalamic pathway) strongly inhibits these cells. In an attempt to extend earlier studies of reticulothalamic connections to sensory thalamic nuclei, we used laser-scanning photostimulation to study the reticulothalamic projections to the main motor thalamic relays, the ventral anterior and lateral (VA and VL) nuclei, as well as to the nearby central lateral (CL) thalamic nucleus. VA/VL and the earlier studied somatosensory thalamic nuclei are considered "core" nuclei with topographic thalamocortical projections, whereas CL is thought to be a "matrix" nucleus with diffuse thalamocortical projections. We found that the TRN input footprints to VA/VL and CL are spatially localized and topographic and generally conform to the patterns established earlier for the TRN projections to sensory thalamic relays. These remarkable similarities suggest similar organization of reticulothalamic pathways and TRN regulation of thalamocortical communication for motor and sensory systems and perhaps also for core and matrix thalamus. Furthermore, we found that VA/VL and CL shared overlapping TRN input regions, suggesting that CL may also be involved in the relay of motor information.

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