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The subcellular organization of neocortical excitatory connections


Understanding cortical circuits will require mapping the connections between specific populations of neurons1, as well as determining the dendritic locations where the synapses occur2. The dendrites of individual cortical neurons overlap with numerous types of local and long-range excitatory axons, but axodendritic overlap is not always a good predictor of actual connection strength3,4,5. Here we developed an efficient channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)-assisted method6,7,8 to map the spatial distribution of synaptic inputs, defined by presynaptic ChR2 expression, within the dendritic arborizations of recorded neurons. We expressed ChR2 in two thalamic nuclei, the whisker motor cortex and local excitatory neurons and mapped their synapses with pyramidal neurons in layers 3, 5A and 5B (L3, L5A and L5B) in the mouse barrel cortex. Within the dendritic arborizations of L3 cells, individual inputs impinged onto distinct single domains. These domains were arrayed in an orderly, monotonic pattern along the apical axis: axons from more central origins targeted progressively higher regions of the apical dendrites. In L5 arborizations, different inputs targeted separate basal and apical domains. Input to L3 and L5 dendrites in L1 was related to whisker movement and position, suggesting that these signals have a role in controlling the gain of their target neurons9. Our experiments reveal high specificity in the subcellular organization of excitatory circuits.

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Figure 1: Subcellular ChR2-assisted circuit mapping.
Figure 2: Subcellular distribution of inputs onto L3 pyramidal neurons.
Figure 3: Subcellular distribution of inputs onto L5B pyramidal neurons.
Figure 4: The laminar position of L5 pyramidal neurons determines the dendritic location of L2/3 inputs.


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We thank A. Karpova for help with viral constructs, G. Oliver and B. Xu for the Six3Cre mouse line, D. Chklovskii, G. Shepherd and Q. Wen for comments on the manuscript, Y. Yu for the model of the dendrotoxin-sensitive potassium channel and T. O’Connor for software development.

Author Contributions L.P. and K.S. designed the experiments. L.P. performed the experiments with help from T.M. (viral injections in M1 and related recordings). S.S. provided critical reagents. L.P. and K.S. analysed the data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Karel Svoboda.

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This file contains This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures S1-S9 with Legends Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References, Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Figures S1-S9 with Legends (PDF 3903 kb)

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Petreanu, L., Mao, T., Sternson, S. et al. The subcellular organization of neocortical excitatory connections. Nature 457, 1142–1145 (2009).

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