In rodents, each mystacial whisker is represented in the granular layer of primary somatosensory (SI) cortex by a compact cluster of cells known as a barrel, and barrels are separated from each other by domains that are called septa. Vertical columns of neurons aligned with each barrel act as a functional assembly to process information from a "principal" whisker, but a functional role has not been identified for vertical columns of neurons that are aligned with the septa. To determine whether these septal columns provide the main source of projections to primary motor (MI) cortex, we placed retrograde tracers in MI cortex and analyzed the location of the retrogradely labeled neurons with respect to the septal and barrel compartments of SI barrel cortex. In cases in which SI barrel cortex was sectioned tangentially, retrogradely labeled neurons in the extragranular layers of SI were plotted and superimposed onto reconstructions of the layer IV barrel field. In each of these cases, most labeled neurons were located above or below the septal regions of layer IV. When SI barrel cortex was sectioned coronally, we observed multiple columns of labeled SI neurons that were vertically aligned with the septal zones of layer IV. These results indicate that columns of neurons that are vertically aligned with the septa, or septal columns, are functionally linked by virtue of their projections to MI cortex. We hypothesize that these septal columns represent an interconnected and functionally distinct circuit that transmits information to MI and other brain regions involved in motor control.
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