Transsynaptically spreading viruses are widely used for tracing neuronal circuits in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. However, viruses are capricious tools with selective spreading properties that can produce false-negative results. Using herpes simplex virus type 1 and two pseudorabies virus strains, we aimed at mapping quantitatively neuronal connections in the rat hippocampus. We found that none of the tested viruses infected CA3 pyramidal neurons across synapses following inoculation into the CA1 area. Combined injections of the viruses with the retrograde tracer cholera toxin B (CTB) resulted in CTB, but not virus labeling of CA3 pyramidal neurons. In contrast, other brain regions known to send inputs to the CA1 (the entorhinal cortex, medial septum and diagonal band of Broca, raphe nuclei) were transsynaptically infected. Our results indicate that Schaffer collaterals of CA3 pyramidal cells lack the appropriate cellular machinery for successful neurotropic herpesvirus infection. After injections of viruses into the dentate gyrus/CA3 area, we found labeling in commissurally projecting mossy cells and their afferent granule cells but not in contralateral CA3 pyramidal cells. Using this unique spreading property, we estimated that single mossy cells receive input from a compact cluster of 30-40 granule cells.
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