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Heterogeneous Organization and Connectivity of the Chicken Auditory Thalamus (Gallus gallus)

Wang, Y;Zorio, DAR;Karten, HJ;

The auditory ascending system contains parallel pathways in vertebrate brains. In chickens (Gallus gallus), three pathways arise from nucleus laminaris (NL), nucleus angularis (NA), and regio intermedius (RI) in the brainstem, innervating three subdivisions of the nucleus mesencephalicus lateralis pars dorsalis (MLd) in the midbrain. The current study reveals the segregation of these pathways in their subsequent projections to the nucleus ovoidalis (Ov) in the thalamus. Based on cytoarchitecture and myelin distribution, we identified seven Ov subregions, including five neuronal clusters within the Ov proper, the nucleus semilunaris parovoidalis (SPO), and the circum-ovoidalis (cOv). Immunocytochemistry further revealed that a ventromedial cluster of the Ov proper (Ovvm) contains unique cell types expressing 8 subunit nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, while SPO and cOv are characterized with expression of calcitonin-gene-related peptide and cholecystokinin. Tract tracing studies demonstrated that Ovvm is a major target of the NL-recipient zone of MLd, while the RI-recipient zone of MLd predominantly projects to a ventrolateral cluster of the Ov proper. Afferent inputs to the remaining regions of the Ov proper mostly arise from the NA-recipient zone of MLd. SPO and cOv receive a projection from the surrounding areas of MLd, named the nucleus intercollicularis. Importantly, the Ov proper, SPO and cOv all project to the Field L2 in the forebrain, the avian auditory cortex. Taken together, these results demonstrate that the avian auditory thalamus is a structurally and functionally heterogeneous structure, implicating an important role in generating novel representations for specific acoustic features. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.