Single whiskers are topographically represented in the trigeminal (V) nucleus principalis (PrV) by a set of cylindrical aggregates of primary afferent terminals and somata (barrelettes). This isomorphic pattern is transmitted to the thalamus and barrel cortex. However, it is not known if terminals in PrV from neighboring whiskers interdigitate so as to violate rules of spatial parcellation predicted by barrelette borders; nor is it known the extent to which higher order inputs are topographic. The existence of inter-whisker arbor overlap or diffuse higher order inputs would demand additional theoretical principles to account for single whisker dominance in PrV cell responses. In adult rats, first, primary afferent pairs responding to the same or neighboring whiskers and injected with Neurobiotin or horseradish peroxidase were rendered brown or black to color-code their terminal boutons. When collaterals from both fibers appeared in the same topographic plane through PrV, the percentage of the summed area of the two arbor envelopes that overlapped was computed. For same-whisker pairs, overlap was 5±6% (mean±SD). For within-row neighbors, overlap was 2±5%. For between-row neighbors, overlap was 1±4%. Second, the areas of whisker primary afferent arbors and their corresponding barrelettes in the PrV were compared. In the transverse plane, arbor envelopes significantly exceeded the areas of cytochrome oxidase-stained barrelettes; arbors often extended into neighboring barrelettes. Third, bulk tracing of the projections from the spinal V subnucleus interpolaris (SpVi) to the PrV revealed strict topography such that they connect same-whisker barrelettes in the SpVi and PrV. Thus, whisker primary afferents do not exclusively project to their corresponding PrV barrelette, whereas higher order SpVi inputs to the PrV are precisely topographic.
- Principal trigeminal nucleus