The thalamus connects the cortex with other brain regions and supports sensory perception, movement, and cognitive function via numerous distinct nuclei. However, the mechanisms underlying the development and organization of diverse thalamic nuclei remain largely unknown. Here we report an intricate ontogenetic logic of mouse thalamic structures. Individual radial glial progenitors in the developing thalamus actively divide and produce a cohort of neuronal progeny that shows striking spatial configuration and nuclear occupation related to functionality. Whereas the anterior clonal cluster displays relatively more tangential dispersion and contributes predominantly to nuclei with cognitive functions, the medial ventral posterior clonal cluster forms prominent radial arrays and contributes mostly to nuclei with sensory- or motor-related activities. Moreover, the first-order and higher-order sensory and motor nuclei across different modalities are largely segregated clonally. Notably, sonic hedgehog signaling activity influences clonal spatial distribution. Our study reveals lineage relationship to be a critical regulator of nonlaminated thalamus development and organization.
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We thank A.L. Joyner (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center), R. Kageyama (Kyoto University), S. Hippenmeyer (The Institute of Science and Technology), and Y. Nakagawa (University of Minnesota) for providing the R26LSL-SmoM2-EYFP, Nes-CreERT2, MADM11, and Olig3-Cre mouse lines, respectively; J.N. Betley (University of Pennsylvania) for guinea pig anti-RFP antibody, and members of S.-H.S.'s laboratory for insightful discussion and input. This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (R01DA024681 and R01MH101382 to S.-H.S. and P30CA008748 to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Core Facilities), the Human Frontier Science Program (RGP0053 to S.-H.S. and K.H.), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (61572265 to Z.H. and 759881 to S.-H.S.).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Integrated supplementary information
(a) Confocal images of an E12 Nestin-CreERT2;Ai9-tdTomato brain treated with TM at E10 and stained for BLBP (green), a radial glial progenitor-specific marker, tdTomato (red), and OLIG3 (white), and with DAPI (blue). A schematic of brain structures is shown at the top. Note that BLBP-expressing radial glial progenitors in the developing thalamus marked by OLIG3 expression are labeled by tdTomato upon TM treatment, indicating that CreERT2 is expressed in thalamic radial glial progenitors in the Nestin-CreERT2 mouse line. Scale bar: 100 μm. (b) Schematic of MADM labeling. (c) Experimental paradigm of MADM-based clonal analysis. (d) Confocal images of an E12 brain treated with TM at E10 and stained for EGFP (green) and tdTomato (red), and with DAPI (blue). High magnification image of a G2-Z yellow clone in the thalamus (boxed area) is shown to the right. Arrows indicate bipolar radial glial progenitors, arrowheads indicate the progeny, open arrowheads indicate the radial glial fibers, and the asterisk indicates the ventricular endfoot. Scale bars: 100 μm and 20 μm.
(a) Confocal image of a P21 Olig3-Cre;Ai9-tdTomato brain stained for tdTomato (red) and with DAPI (blue). Note the specific expression of tdTomato in the thalamus and thalamocortical projections. Scale bar: 500 μm. (b) Confocal image of an E15 Olig3-Cre brain injected with low titer Cre recombinase-dependent retrovirus expressing EGFP at E11 and stained for EGFP (green) and with DAPI (blue). Note two radial clonal clusters in the developing thalamus (broken line). High magnification image of a clone (boxed area) is shown at the bottom. The arrow indicates the bipolar radial glial progenitor and arrowheads indicate the progeny that are radially arrayed along the radial glial fiber (open arrowheads). Another labeled clonal cluster is located ventrally. Scale bars: 200 μm and 50 μm. TC, thalamocortical.
Supplementary Figure 3 Correlated localization of MADM-labeled RGPs at the embryonic stage and clones at the more mature stage.
(a) Quantification of the average number of neurons in clones labeled at E10 and examined at E15 or P21 (E10-15, n=23; E10-P21, n=23). Data are presented as median with interquartile range and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. *, p=0.03 (Mann- Whitney test). (b) Confocal images of an E14 MADM-labeled thalamus treated with TM at E12 and stained for EGFP (green) and tdTomato (red), and with DAPI (blue). A two-cell local cluster without any radial glial progenitors (boxed area) is labeled in the developing thalamus. High magnification image is shown to the right. M, medial; L, lateral. Scale bars: 100 μm and 10 μm. (c) Quantification of the localizations of MADM-labeled RGPs at the embryonic stage and clones at the more mature stage. Note a clear correlation between the localizations of labeled progenitor cells and labeled clones at different embryonic stages. pTH-R: rostral progenitor domain of the thalamus; PTh: prethalamus. (d) NND analysis of clones labeled at different embryonic stages. Note that the cumulative frequency of NND of clones labeled at E9 (red, n=18), E10 (green, n=28), E11 (orange, n=19), and E12 (blue, n=11) is similar and significantly left-shifted than that of random simulated dataset (gray). Data are presented as mean±s.e.m. n.s., not significant; ****, p=1x10–15 (unpaired t test with Welch's correction). (e) Quantification of the fraction of clones containing neurons only (N) or neurons and glia (N+G) at different embryonic stages.
Supplementary Figure 4 Distinct morphological features of excitatory neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes in the thalamus.
(a, b) Representative 3D projection (a) and confocal (b) images of a G2-X clone (green and red) in the thalamus labeled at E9, and immunostained for neuronal marker NEUN (white) and counterstained with DAPI (blue) at P21. High magnification images of the somas of four cells are shown to the right in b. Broken line circles indicate the nuclei. Scale bars: 20 μm and 20 μm. (c, d) Representative 3D projection (c) and confocal (d) images of a G2-X thalamic clone (green and red) occupying TRN (contoured in yellow lines) and ZI labeled at E9, and immunostained for astrocyte marker S100 (white), and counterstained with DAPI (blue) at P21. High magnification images of the soma of the astrocyte are shown to the right in d. The broken line circle indicates the nucleus. Scale bars: 20 μm and 20 μm. (e, f) Representative 3D projection (e) and confocal (f) images of a G2-Z thalamic clone (yellow) occupying TRN (contoured in yellow lines) and ZI labeled at E9, and immunostained for oligodendrocyte marker OLIG2 (white), and counterstained with DAPI (blue) at P21. High magnification images of the somas of two oligodendrocytes (arrows) are shown to the right in e. Broken line circles indicate the nuclei. Note the labeled oligodendrocytes possess characteristic short parallel neurites. Scale bars: 20 μm and 20 μm. (g) Quantification of the fraction of labeled cells with a large soma/nucleus and long neurites or a small soma/nucleus and short bushy or parallel neurites that are positive for NEUN, S100, or OLIG2, respectively.
(a) Aligned single coronal sections from 34 experimental brains (gray outlines) in the position corresponding to ABA section 69. Red lines indicate 6 line profiles used to calculate thalamus edge (i.e. border) variability. D, dorsal; V, ventral. (b) Thalamus border variability for the section in a (n=45). (c) Average border variability for 5 sections along the anterior to posterior axis (n=45). (d) Aligned 3D reference ABA thalamus after normalization (red) with the average experimental thalamus (blue). (e) Percentage of volume overlap between reference ABA thalamus and individual experimental thalami (n=45). Data in b, c and r are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum.
(a) 3D reconstructed images of a G2-X clone containing 7 labeled neurons in the TRN contoured by yellow lines. (b) High magnification cross-section confocal images of the 7 labeled neurons stained for parvalbumin (PV, white), a GABAergic interneuron-specific marker. Note that all 7 neurons are positive for PV, indicating their interneuron identity. Scale bar: 10 μm. (c) Quantification of the average number of neurons in the four clonal clusters ('mvp', n=33; 'a', n=9; 'md', n=18; 'GABAergic', n=17). Data are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. **, p=0.005 (‘mvp’ versus ‘a’, MannWhitney test); **, p=0.001 (‘mvp’ versus ‘GABAergic’, Mann-Whitney test). (d) Quantification of the average number of nuclei that the four clonal clusters occupy. Data are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. n.s., not significant; ****, p<0.0001 (Mann Whitney test. Details are available in the Supplementary Methods Checklist).
Supplementary Figure 7 Validation of the number of excitatory neuron clonal subclusters based on nuclear occupation in the thalamus.
Quantification of the Silhouette coefficients with regard to the number of clusters. The red arrow indicates the highest Silhouette coefficient at three clusters.
Supplementary Figure 8 Overlap between the nuclei occupied by the ‘mvp’ clonal cluster and the nuclei harboring excitatory neuron progeny of OLIG2-positive progenitors in the developing thalamus.
(a) Representative 3D projection images of tdTomato-expressing excitatory neuron progeny (red filled circles) generated by OLIG2-positive progenitors in the thalamus. Note that the inhibitory interneurons located in the vLG and TRN, likely derived from OLIG2-positive progenitors in the prethalamus, were not traced. Scale bar: 500 μm. (b) Representative confocal images of tdTomato-expressing excitatory neuron (left), astrocyte (middle), and oligodendrocyte (right) progeny generated by OLIG2-positive thalamic progenitors. High magnification images of the somas (arrows) are shown at the bottom. Broken line circles indicate the nuclei. Scale bars: 10 μm and 10 μm. (c) Representative nuclear occupation of tdTomato-expressing excitatory neuron progeny (red filled circles) generated by OLIG2-positive progenitors.
Supplementary Figure 9 Distinct localization and functionality of labeled neurons in VM, RE, and RH between the ‘a’ and ‘mvp’ clonal clusters.
(a) Percentage of labeled neurons in the ‘a’ (left) and ‘mvp’ (right) clonal clusters that are located in the anterior or posterior half of VM, RE and RH. Note that labeled neurons in the ‘a’ clonal cluster are predominantly located in the anterior part, whereas those in the ‘mvp’ cluster are mostly located in the posterior part. (b) Distinct functionality of labeled neurons in the ‘a’ (top) and ‘mvp’ (bottom) clonal clusters located in VM, RE, and RH. Representative ‘a’ and ‘mvp’ cluster clones with corresponding ABA sections with nuclear boundaries are shown to the left. Asterisks indicate labeled neurons located in VM (black area), RE (dark gray area) and RH (light gray area). Gray lines indicate the contours of the thalamic sections where the labeled clones are located and black lines indicate the sections where labeled VM/RE/RH neurons are located. The corresponding cortical projection-based voxel maps of the same regions are shown to the right. Note that the anterior part of VM, RE, and RH predominantly contribute to higher order cognitive functions, whereas the posterior part of VM, RE, and RH mostly contribute to sensory/motor-related activities. TC, thalamocortical.
Representative confocal images of a G2-X clone labeled at E10, and immunostained for EYFP (green) and tdTomato (red), and counterstained with DAPI (blue) at E14. High magnification images of a tdTomato-expressing RGP in the VZ (broken lines) are shown to the right. Note the membrane expression of SmoM2-EYFP in the tdTomato-expressing RGP (arrows) with an apical endfoot (asterisks), suggesting the successful recombination of both SmoM2-EYFP and MADM11 alleles in the clone. Arrowheads indicate the expression of SmoM2-EYFP in a nearby non-MADM-labeled cell, indicating a higher frequency of intra-chromosomal (i.e. SmoM2-EYFP allele) recombination than that of inter-chromosomal (i.e. MADM11 allele) recombination. Broken line circles indicate the somas. Scale bars: 20 μm and 10 μm.
Supplementary Figure 11 Shh signaling does not affect the spatial distribution of thalamic clones in the medial ventral posterior region.
(a) Representative 3D reconstructed images of the thalamic hemispheres containing a MADM-labeled clone in the medial ventral/posterior region of the wild type control (top) and SmoM2 (bottom) mice. Note that the clone in the SmoM2 mouse is similarly dispersed radially to that in the control mouse. Scale bar: 500 μm. (b) Quantification of the average number of neurons in green/red G2-X clones labeled at E10 (control, n=23; SmoM2, n=11), E11 (control, n=13; SmoM2, n=10), and E12 (control, n=9; SmoM2, n=3) between the control and SmoM2 mice. Data are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. n.s., not significant. (c) Quantification of the average number of neurons in clones located in the anterior (control, n=9; SmoM2, n=5), medial dorsal (control, n=18; SmoM2, n=6), and medial ventral/posterior (control, n=33; SmoM2, n=21) regions of the P4 control and SmoM2 mice. Data are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. n.s., not significant. (d) Representative in situ hybridization images of the anterior (top) and medial (bottom) section of the control (left) and SmoM2 (right) thalami for RORα. Note the expansion of RORα expression to the anterior region, as well as dorsally, in the SmoM2 thalamus compared to the control. Scale bar: 200 μm. (e) NND analysis of MADM-labeled neuronal clones in the SmoM2 thalamus. Note that compared to random datasets simulated 100 times (gray), the cumulative frequency of NND of thalamic neuronal clones (red, n=31) is significantly left-shifted towards shorter distances, indicating a spatial clustering. Data are presented as mean±s.e.m. ****, p p=10–15 (unpaired t test with Welch’s correction).
(a) Quantification of the average number of glial cells in individual clones in the control (left) and SmoM2 (right) thalami (control, n=34; SmoM2, n=24). Data are presented as median with interquartile range, and whiskers are the minimum and maximum. n.s., not significant (Mann Whitney test). (b) Quantification of the number of clones containing neurons only (N) or neurons and glia (N+G) in the wild type control (left) and SmoM2 (right) thalami. Note the increase in the fraction of clones containing glial cells in the SmoM2 thalamus compared to the control. **, p=0.003 (χ2 test). (c) NND analysis of MADM-labeled glial clones in the SmoM2 thalamus. Note that compared to random datasets simulated 100 times (gray), the cumulative frequency of NND of thalamic glial clones (blue, n=14) is significantly left-shifted towards shorter distances, indicating a spatial clustering. Data are presented as mean±s.e.m. ****, p=1x10–15 (unpaired t test with Welch’s correction). (d) Schematic representation of lineage-related nuclear formation and functional organization in the thalamus.
Supplementary Figures 1–12 (PDF 2554 kb)
Spatial distribution (X/Y/Z coordinates) and nuclear occupation of labeled neurons and glia within individual RGP-derived clones. (XLSX 152 kb)
The thalamus is colored in light gray, the non-sensory/motor-related nuclei in light magenta, and the sensory/motor-related nuclei in cyan. Labeled clonally related neurons in the thalamus are represented by colored dots. A, anterior; D, dorsal; M, medial. Similar displays are used in Supplementary Movie 2. (MP4 2220 kb)
3D rendered image of a P21 thalamic hemisphere containing an ‘mvp’ cluster clone that predominantly occupies the FO sensory/motor-related nuclei.
The thalamus is colored in light gray, the HO nuclei in green, the FO nuclei in yellow, and the pRE/pRH/SMT nuclei in orange. Labeled clonally related neurons in the thalamus are represented by colored dots. Similar displays are used in Supplementary Movie 4. (MP4 4896 kb)
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Shi, W., Xianyu, A., Han, Z. et al. Ontogenetic establishment of order-specific nuclear organization in the mammalian thalamus. Nat Neurosci 20, 516–528 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.4519
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