A pathway for predation in the brain of the barn owl (Tyto alba): Projections of the gracile nucleus to the "claw area" of the rostral Wulst via the dorsal thalamus

J. Martin Wild, F. Kubke, J. L. Peña

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


The Wulst of birds, which is generally considered homologous with the isocortex of mammals, is an elevation on the dorsum of the telencephalon that is particularly prominent in predatory species, especially those with large, frontally placed eyes, such as owls. The Wulst, therefore, is largely visual, but a relatively small rostral portion is somatosensory in nature. In barn owls, this rostral somatosensory part of the Wulst forms a unique physical protuberance dedicated to the representation of the contralateral claw. Here we investigate whether the input to this "claw area" arises from dorsal thalamic neurons that, in turn, receive their somatosensory input from the gracile nucleus. After injections of biotinylated dextran amine into the gracile nucleus and cholera toxin B chain into the claw area, terminations from the former and retrogradely labeled neurons from the latter overlapped substantially in the thalamic nucleus dorsalis intermedius ventralis anterior. These results indicate the existence in this species of a "classical" trisynaptic somatosensory pathway from the body periphery to the telencephalic Wulst, via the dorsal thalamus, one that is likely involved in the barn owl's predatory behavior. The results are discussed in the context of somatosensory projections, primarily in this and other avian species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-166
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 10 2008



  • Evolution
  • Owl
  • Somatosensory
  • Thalamus
  • Wulst

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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