The dorsolateral part of the striatum (DLS) represents the initial stage for processing sensorimotor information in the basal ganglia. Although the DLS receives much of its input from the primary somatosensory (SI) cortex, peripheral somesthetic stimulation activates the DLS at latencies that are shorter than the response latencies recorded in the SI cortex. To identify the subcortical regions that transmit somesthetic information directly to the DLS, we deposited small quantities of retrograde tracers at DLS sites that displayed consistent time-locked responses to controlled whisker stimulation. The neurons that were retrogradely labeled by these injections were located mainly in the sensorimotor cortex and, to a lesser degree, in the amygdala and thalamus. Quantitative analysis of neuronal labeling in the thalamus indicated that the strongest thalamic input to the whisker-sensitive part of the DLS originates from the medial posterior nucleus (POm), a somesthetic-related region that receives inputs from the spinal trigeminal nucleus. Anterograde tracer injections in POm confirmed that this thalamic region projects to the DLS neuropil. In subsequent experiments, simultaneous recordings from POm and the DLS during whisker stimulation showed that POm consistently responds before the DLS. These results suggest that POm could transmit somesthetic information to the DLS, and this modality-specific thalamostriatal pathway may cooperate with the thalamostriatal projections that originate from the intralaminar nuclei.
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