Abstract

The ventral posterior nucleus of the thalamus plays an important role in somatosensory information processing. It contains elongated cellular domains called barreloids, which are the structural basis for the somatotopic organization of vibrissae representation. So far, the organization of glial networks in these barreloid structures and its modulation by neuronal activity has not been studied. We have developed a method to visualize thalamic barreloid fields in acute slices. Combining electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, and electroporation in transgenic mice with cell type-specific fluorescence labeling, we provide the first structure-function analyses of barreloidal glial gap junction networks. We observed coupled networks, which comprised both astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. The spread of tracers or a fluorescent glucose derivative through these networks was dependent on neuronal activity and limited by the barreloid borders, which were formed by uncoupled or weakly coupled oligodendrocytes. Neuronal somata were distributed homogeneously across barreloid fields with their processes running in parallel to the barreloid borders. Many astrocytes and oligodendrocytes were not part of the panglial networks. Thus, oligodendrocytes are the cellular elements limiting the communicating panglial network to a single barreloid, which might be important to ensure proper metabolic support to active neurons located within a particular vibrissae signaling pathway.

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