In the rodent vibrissal system, active sensation and sensorimotor integration are mediated in part by connections between barrel cortex and vibrissal motor cortex. Little is known about how these structures interact at the level of neurons. We used Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) expression, combined with anterograde and retrograde labeling, to map connections between barrel cortex and pyramidal neurons in mouse motor cortex. Barrel cortex axons preferentially targeted upper layer (L2/3, L5A) neurons in motor cortex; input to neurons projecting back to barrel cortex was particularly strong. Barrel cortex input to deeper layers (L5B, L6) of motor cortex, including neurons projecting to the brainstem, was weak, despite pronounced geometric overlap of dendrites with axons from barrel cortex. Neurons in different layers received barrel cortex input within stereotyped dendritic domains. The cortico-cortical neurons in superficial layers of motor cortex thus couple motor and sensory signals and might mediate sensorimotor integration and motor learning.
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