Two types of terminations were observed on corti-cothalamic fibers arising from cells in different layers of cat auditory cortex. Injections of the anterograde tracers Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin (PHA-L) or biocytin were made into single cortical loci that included both superficial layer 5 (5a) and layer 6 in the primary auditory cortex (Al). These resulted in labeling of terminal fibers with small (∼1 μm) and large (∼2 μm) boutons in the medial geniculate complex (MG) and the lateral nucleus of the posterior complex. Large boutons were found in the deep and superficial dorsal nuclei, in the ventrolateral nucleus, and, less frequently, in the medial nucleus of the MG. They usually ended in grape-like clusters of boutons. By contrast, small boutons were found densely in the pars lateralis and pars ovoidea of the ventral nucleus, and to a lesser extent in the medial nucleus of MG. In the anterior third of the ventral nucleus, where the highest density of labeled fibers was observed, the small bouton terminations formed a plate-like plexus. In the inferior colliculus (IC), most terminal boutons on labeled corticotectal fibers were of large size.
To reveal the cells of origin of the axons ending in the two different types of corticothalamic terminations, biocytin injections were localized in either layer 5 or layer 6 of Al or PHA-L injections were made into middle layers, including layer 5a but excluding layer 6. Virtually all labeled terminals found in the MG after layer 5 injections were of large size, while those found after layer 6 injections were of small size.
The distribution of terminals of single-labeled axons was extensive and variable. For example, an axon recovered after a layer 5 injection of biocytin ended in at least seven patches of clusters of large boutons along much of the anteroposterior axis of MG.
Our previous findings showed two neuronal populations situated in superficial layer 5 and in layer 6 of Al and projecting to the thalamus. The axons of these cells had different patterns of collateral distributions in the cortex. The present study shows that the extrinsi-cally projecting axons of these two populations also have different terminal morphologies and distribution patterns in the MG. The findings suggest that the corticothalamic pathway in the cat auditory system consists of at least two feedback projections originating from different cortical layers that exert different influences on distinct thalamic neuronal populations.