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Proprioceptive thalamus receiving forelimb and neck muscle spindle inputs via the external cuneate nucleus in the rat

Uemura, Y;Haque, T;Sato, F;Tsutsumi, Y;Ohara, H;Oka, A;Furuta, T;Bae, YC;Yamashiro, T;Tachibana, Y;Yoshida, A;

Proprioceptive signals from body muscles have historically been considered to project to the rostrodorsal shell of the ventrobasal thalamic complex [the ventral posterolateral nucleus (VPL) and ventral posteromedial nucleus (VPM)]. However, we have recently found that proprioception from rat jaw-closing muscle spindles (JCMSs) is conveyed via the supratrigeminal nucleus to the caudo-ventromedial edge of the VPM, but not to the rostrodorsal shell of the VPM. Therefore, proprioception from other body muscles may also project to thalamic regions other than the rostrodorsal shell of the VPL. We thus examined the thalamic projection from the rat external cuneate nucleus (ECu), which receives proprioceptive inputs from forelimb and neck muscles. After injection of anterograde tracer into the ECu, axon terminals were contralaterally labeled in the ventromedial part (VPLvm) of the VPL, but not in the rostrodorsal shell of the VPL. After anterograde tracer injection into the cuneate nucleus (Cu), axon terminals were widely labeled in the contralateral VPL including the VPLvm. In the VPLvm, we electrophysiologically confirmed the proprioceptive inputs responsive to electrical stimulation of the ECu or median nerve and to the pressure of forelimb/neck muscles or wrist flexion. After retrograde tracer injection into the VPLvm, neurons were contralaterally labeled in the ECu and Cu. After retrograde tracer injection into the VPL where no such proprioceptive inputs were recorded, no ECu neurons were labeled. These findings indicate that proprioception from forelimb/neck muscle spindles and JCMSs is somatotopically transmitted to the ventromedial floor of the ventrobasal thalamic complex, but not to its rostrodorsal shell.