The whisker region in rat primary motor (MI) cortex projects to several brainstem regions, but the relative strength of these projections has not been characterized. We recently quantified the MI projections to bilateral targets in the forebrain (Alloway et al.  J Comp Neurol 515:548-564), and the present study extends those findings by quantifying the MI projections to bilateral targets in the brainstem. We found that both the whisker and forepaw regions in MI project most strongly to the basal pons and superior colliculus. While the MI forepaw region projects mainly to the ipsilateral basilar pons, the MI whisker region has significantly more connections with the contralateral side. This bilateral difference suggests that corticopontine projections from the MI whisker region may have a role in coordinating bilateral whisker movements. Anterograde tracer injections in MI did not reveal any direct projections to the facial nucleus, but retrograde tracer injections in the facial nucleus revealed some labeled neurons in MI cortex. The number of retrogradely labeled neurons in MI, however, was dwarfed by a much larger number of labeled neurons in the superior colliculus and other brainstem regions. Together, our anterograde and retrograde tracing results indicate that the superior colliculus provides the most effective route for transmitting information from MI to the facial nucleus.
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