The diversity of neocortical cytoarchitecture could arise from genetic prespecification of cell types and numbers in the ventricular zone, by interaction of cells with their immediate environment, efferent targets, or afferent inputs. Here, we examine the role of the thalamus as efferent target or afferent source in the early control of cell number and type in the developing neocortex. Electrolytic lesions of the thalamus were made in hamsters at birth prior to the thalamic innervation of layer IV. By postnatal day 7, when migration to the cortex is complete, there were no differences in cell number between the cortical plate contralateral and ipsilateral to the thalamic lesion, showing that the absence of thalamic input does not influence the last phases of neocortical cell generation or migration. However, the incidence of pyknotic cells was elevated in the upper half of the cortical plate at this time. By adulthood, the number of cells per unit column of cortex was reduced, due to the apparent absence of small, nonpyramidal cells of layer IV, as determined from Nissl-stained material. Therefore, some of the cytoarchitectonic variability of the neocortex could arise epigenetically by the interaction of neocortical cells with their afferent connections.

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