Prenatal activity from thalamic neurons governs the emergence of functional cortical maps in mice

Journal: Science

Published: 2019-06-07

DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7617

Affiliations: 1

Authors: 9

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Research Highlight

Senses arise in the brain before birth

© Adam Gault/Getty

© Adam Gault/Getty

Sensory maps in the mammalian brain take shape as the embryo develops, scientists in Spain have shown. This finding upends the idea that physical experiences are needed for neurons to pattern themselves into circuits representative of touch, sight, smell and other sensory systems.

A team from the Spanish National Research Council–affiliated Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante genetically disrupted the structured pattern of spontaneous calcium waves in the thalamus of embryonic mice. Consequently, the mice failed to respond normally to stimuli applied to their whiskers.

The findings suggest that functional sensory maps are sketched out in utero well before actual sensory inputs begin to fill in the details. This could help explain why some people are born with synaesthesia, a condition marked by unusual links between sensory experiences.

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  1. Science 364, 987–990 (2019). doi: 10.1126/science.aav7617
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Instituto de Neurociencias, Spain 1

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