Somatotopic organization of the dorsal column nuclei in the rat: transganglionic labelling with B-HRP and WGA-HRP

Steven Maslany, David P. Crockett, M. David Egger

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To analyze the patterns of cutaneous primary afferent fibers projecting to the dorsal column nuclei in the rat, horseradish peroxidase (HRP)-based tracers were injected intracutaneously into a number of discrete regions of the forelimbs and hindlimbs. Three-4 days following the HRP injections, the rats were perfused transcardially; 60 μm transverse sections were cut, and the HRP was reacted using the tetramethyl benzidine method. Comparisons were made of projections following injections with choleragenoid-conjugated horseradish peroxidase (B-HRP) or with wheat-germ agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP). B-HRP and WGA-HRP produced similar patterns of labelling, but B-HRP produced greater intensity of labelling and slightly larger projection areas. In the cuneate nucleus (CN), HRP labelling of primary afferents from small, delimited regions, e.g., from a portion of the skin of a single digit, appeared to be precisely restricted in rostrocaudally oriented columns, with little or no overlap (in the mediolateral and dorsoventral plane) into adjacent regions. With respect to rostrocaudal organization, a region in the CN containing a dense population of cutaneous primary afferent fibers appeared to be similar to the middle, or cluster, region in cats and in raccoons and the pars rotunda in primates. Projection patterns were very consistent from rat to rat, but their somatotopic organization differed from that suggested by electrophysiological studies: cutaneous afferents from forelimb digit 1 projected near the ventral border of the CN; those from digit 5 projected dorsomedially to those from digit 1; the projections from the remaining digits formed a crescent between the projections from digits 1 and 5. In the gracile nucleus, the organization of cutaneous afferent projections from hindlimb digits was more variable and complex than that found in the CN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-65
Number of pages10
JournalBrain research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 8 1991

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


  • Cuneate nucleus
  • Gracile nucleus
  • Medulla
  • Primary afferents
  • Somatosensory

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