Patterned neuronal activity such as spindle bursts in the neonatal cortex is likely to promote the maturation of cortical synapses and neuronal circuits. Previous work on cats has shown that removal of subplate neurons, a transient neuronal population in the immature cortex, prevents the functional maturation of thalamocortical and intracortical connectivity. Here we studied the effect of subplate removal in the neonatal rat primary somatosensory cortex (S1). Using intracortical EEG we show that after selective removal of subplate neurons in the limb region of S1, endogenous and sensory evoked spindle burst activity is largely abolished. Consistent with the reduced in vivo activity in the S1 limb region, we find by in vitro recordings that thalamocortical inputs to layer 4 neurons are weak. In addition, we find that removal of subplate neurons in the S1 barrel region prevents the development of the characteristic histological barrel-like appearance. Thus, subplate neurons are crucially involved in the generation of particular types of early network activity in the neonatal cortex, which are an important feature of cortical development. The altered EEG pattern following subplate damage could be applicable in the neurological assessment of human neonates.
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