Abstract

Apical dendritic bundles from pyramidal neurons are a prominent feature of cortical neuropil but with significant area specializations. Here, we investigate mechanisms of bundle formation, focusing on layer (L) 2 bundles in rat granular retrosplenial cortex (GRS), a limbic area implicated in spatial memory. By using microarrays, we first searched for genes highly and specifically expressed in GRS L2 at postnatal day (P) 3 versus GRS L2 at P12 (respectively, before and after bundle formation), versus GRS L5 (at P3), and versus L2 in barrel field cortex (BF) (at P3). Several genes, including neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), were identified as transiently and specifically expressed in GRS L2. Three of these were cloned and confirmed by in situ hybridization. To test that NT-3–mediated events are causally involved in bundle formation, we used in utero electroporation to overexpress NT-3 in other cortical areas. This produced prominent bundles of dendrites originating from L2 neurons in BF, where L2 bundles are normally absent. Intracellular biocytin fills, after physiological recording in vitro, revealed increased dendritic branching in L1 of BF. The controlled ectopic induction of dendritic bundles identifies a new role for NT-3 and a new in vivo model for investigating dendritic bundles and their formation.

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