In rats, horseradish peroxidase crystals were injected in motor cortical foci functionally identified by means of the motor effects evoked by electrical stimulations. The location in the thalamus of the neurons linked to different motor cortical foci was studied. Thalamic neurons were retrogradely labeled in both "motor" (ventralis lateralis and ventralis medialis) and "non-motor" nuclei: centralis lateralis, lateralis posterior, mediodorsalis and posterior thalamic nuclear group, as well as the ventrobasal complex. The ventrobasal complex was labeled after horseradish peroxidase injections in hindlimb and trunk motor areas. The ascending projections toward the motor cortex from both "motor" and "non-motor" thalamic nuclei are organized more precisely and more elaborately than previously reported. The motor cortical afferents from the nucleus ventralis lateralis are organized in three planes, rostrocaudally, dorsoventrally and mediolaterally. An inverted relation exists in the rostrocaudal plane between the nucleus ventralis lateralis and the motor cortex: the caudal motor cortex region (hindlimb) receives fiber inputs from the rostral region of the nucleus ventralis lateralis, whereas the caudal zone of the nucleus ventralis lateralis projects to the rostral motor cortex region (forelimb and vibrissae). A dorsoventral organization has also been observed in the rostral region of the nucleus ventralis lateralis: the ventral aspect is the source of fibers directed to the distal hindlimb region, whereas fibers originating from the dorsal aspect are directed to the proximal hindlimb area. A mediolateral relationship exists between medial and lateral sides of the nucleus ventralis lateralis and, respectively, proximal and distal forelimb cortical areas. There is some overlap between the various nuclear regions thus delineated. Four functional zones were found in the lateral half of the nucleus ventralis medialis and were classified according to their projection to the motor cortex; these are involved in motor control of the proximal and distal forelimb, vibrissae and ocular movements. The projection is topographically organized according to both an inverted rostrocaudal and a direct dorsoventral-mediolateral arrangement. Caudally, dorsal and ventral nuclear parts project to rostromedial (vibrissae) and rostrolateral (distal forelimb) regions of the motor cortex, respectively. More rostral nuclear zones project to more caudal (proximal forelimb, eye) cortical regions. There is little overlap between these four nuclear subdivisions. The nucleus centralis lateralis projects to vibrissae and proximal, as well as distal, forelimb areas.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)
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