Organization of the somatosensory cortex of the star-nosed mole.


The nose of the star-nosed mole consists of a star-like array of 22 fleshy appendages that radiate from the nostrils and are moved about to explore the environment. The surface of each appendage, or ray, is densely packed with bulbous receptor organs (Eimer's organs) that are highly responsive to tactile stimulation. Here, we report that these rays have corresponding morphological specializations in somatosensory cortex. Using a stain for the metabolic enzyme, cytochrome oxidase (CO), to reveal subdivisions of cortex, we disclosed a complex pattern of CO-dense stripes or bands separated by sharp lines or septa of low CO staining. Multiunit microelectrode recordings of neural activity evoked by light tactile stimuli in somatosensory cortex of anesthetized moles allowed us to mark some of the bands and other CO-dark regions with small electrolytic lesions and later relate recording results to the CO pattern. The results suggest that the primary somatosensory cortex, S1, has an unusual ventrolateral location and orientation with representations of mouth, nose rays, facial vibrissae, forepaw, and trunk in a rostrocaudal sequence. Within this presumptive S1, the 11 rays of the contralateral nose are represented as a rostral-to-caudal cortical pinwheel of 11 stripes. Cortex ventral to the primary set of stripes contains a second rostrocaudal representation of the rays as a mirror image of the first. This second set of stripes may be part of the second somatosensory area, S2. A third pattern of CO stripes appears to merge partially with caudal stripes of the first two patterns, so that a full pattern of 11 stripes is not obvious. This representation may correspond to the ventral somatosensory area, VS, of other mammals. An extensive area of cortex separated from the nose by a large septum was responsive to stimulation of the forelimb. Auditory cortex is unusually caudal in this mole, and the presumptive primary visual area is relatively small. These specializations of somatosensory cortex in star-nosed moles may be more patent examples of the consequences of more general factors in brain development. The observations are consistent with the general rule that the terminations of sensory projections with discorrelated activity segregate.


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