Individual variation and lateral asymmetry of the rat primary somatosensory cortex.
We have evaluated the interindividual variability and lateral symmetry of a major cortical area by comparing the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) of adult rats. Our choice of the rat was dictated by the accuracy with which one can measure S1 and its component representations in the rodent brain; the importance of such measurements lies in understanding the rules that govern the allocation of cortical space and, ultimately, the consequences of differential allocation for behavior. With respect to interindividual differences, the major somatic representations in S1 are surprisingly variable in size. The area of the whiskerpad representation, for example, ranged from 3.72 to 6.84 mm2 in a sample of 53 rats; other components of S1 showed comparable differences among animals. With respect to lateral symmetry, the average area of each major representation was similar for the right and left hemispheres; thus, we found no consistent bias in the size of S1 or its elements in the sample as a whole. Within individual animals, however, the sizes of the major somatic representations were often quite different in the two hemispheres. The magnitude of the lateral differences averaged 7.9 +/- 0.8% (mean +/- SEM) for the whisker pad representation, 11.6 +/- 1.3% for the upper lip, 15.4 +/- 1.6% for the furry buccal pad, 13.9 +/- 1.4% for the lower jaw, and 13.3 +/- 1.2% for the forepaw. These results show that the amount of cortical space allocated to corresponding functions in individual rats--or in the two hemispheres of a particular rat--are often different. Such variations are likely to be reflected in somatosensory performance.
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