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A single spectrum of neuronal identities across thalamus

By James W. Phillips, Anton Schulmann, Erina Hara, Chenghao Liu, Lihua Wang, Brenda C. Shields, Wyatt Korff, Andrew L. Lemire, Joshua Dudman, Sacha B Nelson, Adam Hantman

Posted 31 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/241315

Uncovering common principles by which diverse modalities of information are processed is a fundamental goal in neuroscience. In mammalian brain, thalamus is the central processing station for inputs from sensory systems, subcortical motor systems, and cortex; a function subserved by over 30 defined nuclei. Multiple thalamic nuclei send convergent information to each region of the forebrain, but whether there is a conserved architecture across the set of thalamic pathways projecting to each forebrain area has remained unresolved. To uncover organizational principles of thalamic pathways, we produced a near-comprehensive transcriptomic atlas of thalamus. This revealed a common logic for thalamic nuclei serving all major cortical modalities. We found that almost all nuclei belong to one of three major profiles, with a given cortical area getting input from each of these profiles. These profiles lie on a single axis of variance aligned with the mediolateral axis of thalamus, and this axis is strongly enriched in genes encoding receptors and ion channels. We further show that each projection profile exhibits different electrophysiological signatures. Single-cell profiling revealed that rather than forming discrete classes, thalamic neurons lie on a spectrum, with intermediate cells existing between profiles. Thus, in contrast to canonical models of thalamus that suggest it is a switchboard primarily concerned with routing distinct modalities of information to distinct cortical regions, we show that the thalamocortical system is more akin to a molecularly-defined filter bank repeatedly applied across modality. Together, we reveal striking covariation in the organization of thalamic pathways serving all input modalities and output targets, establishing a simple and comprehensive thalamic functional architecture.

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