Whisker trimming from birth reduces activity and alters receptive fields (RFs) in the barrel cortex and thalamus. To assess whether or not this reflects deprivation effects on trigeminal (V) first‐ and second‐order neurons, 59 primary afferents and 343 cells in V brainstem subnucleus interpolaris (SpVi) were studied in rats whose whiskers were trimmed daily for 6–9 weeks from birth. Deprivation did not effect brainstem somatotopy or primary afferent RFs. However, many SpVi cells had abnormal RFs and higher‐order inputs, resembling the changes caused by infraorbital nerve injury. For example, in controls, only 3% of whisker‐sensitive local circuit neurons responded to more than one whisker, whereas 35% of the deprived and 41% of the infraorbital nerve cut samples had multiwhisker RFs. Deprived rats also had higher than normal incidences of cells with split or absent RFs, RFs spanning more than one V division, intermodality convergence, and directional or high‐velocity sensitivity. Because these changes mimic those caused by nerve section, deprivation may underlie some nerve injury effects on V brainstem RF size and character. Insofar as cytochrome oxidase, anterograde labeling, and unit recordings revealed normal topography in deprived primary afferents and SpVi cells, RF changes in SpVi cells may reflect altered SpVi circuitry. To test this hypothesis, we assessed the morphology of 32 similarly deprived V primary afferents. In SpVi, deprived fibers had normal numbers of collaterals with normal shapes, transverse arbor areas, and topography. However, the total number of boutons per collateral was significantly reduced. Thus, deprivation effects on V higher‐order RFs reflect quantitative changes in V afferent terminals. © 1995 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.
- pattern formation