3D reconstruction and standardization of the rat facial nucleus for precise mapping of vibrissal motor networks.

Research paper by Jason M JM Guest, Mythreya M MM Seetharama, Elizabeth S ES Wendel, Peter L PL Strick, Marcel M Oberlaender

Indexed on: 30 Sep '17Published on: 30 Sep '17Published in: Neuroscience


The rodent facial nucleus (FN) comprises motoneurons (MNs) that control the facial musculature. In the lateral part of the FN, populations of vibrissal motoneurons (vMNs) innervate two groups of muscles that generate movements of the whiskers. Vibrissal MNs thus represent the terminal point of the neuronal networks that generate rhythmic whisking during exploratory behaviors and that modify whisker movements based on sensory-motor feedback during tactile-based perception. Here, we combined retrograde tracer injections into whisker-specific muscles, with large-scale immunohistochemistry and digital reconstructions to generate an average model of the rat FN. The model incorporates measurements of the FN geometry, its cellular organization and a whisker row-specific map formed by vMNs. Furthermore, the model provides a digital 3D reference frame that allows registering structural data - obtained across scales and animals - into a common coordinate system with a precision of ∼60 µm. We illustrate the registration method by injecting replication competent rabies virus into the muscle of a single whisker. Retrograde transport of the virus to vMNs enabled reconstruction of their dendrites. Subsequent trans-synaptic transport enabled mapping the presynaptic neurons of the reconstructed vMNs. Registration of these data to the FN reference frame provides a first account of the morphological and synaptic input variability within a population of vMNs that innervate the same muscle.