Abstract

This study aimed at elucidating the branching pattern of striatal and thalamic projections arising from prelimbic (Cg3) cortex in the rat. Small pools (5-15 cells) of neurons were microiontophoretically injected with biotin-dextran or biocytin and their labeled axons were individually reconstructed from serial horizontal sections immunostained for calbindin-D28k to delineate striatal patch/matrix compartments. Reconstruction of > 40 axons shows that all Cg3 corticofugal fibers, including corticothalamic axons from layer VI, course through the patch network in the rostromedial sector of the striatum. Corticostriatal projections arise from two types of layer V cells: (i) long-range corticofugal neurons, whose main axons reach the brainstem and/or spinal cord, and (ii) neurons arborizing into both striatum and claustrum, either ipsi-, contra- or bilaterally. The axons of these two types of neurons arborize profusely in striatal patches and only sparsely in the matrix. Layer VI neurons do not arborize in the striatum but target principally the thalamus. The same corticothalamic axon can innervate the anterior, rostral intralaminar and mediodorsal thalamic nuclei. These findings support the concept that no corticofugal fiber system exists that is solely devoted to the striatum. They also shed new light on how neural information from prelimbic cortex is conveyed to various subcortical limbic structures in the rat.