The claustrum is a subcortical structure reciprocally connected with most areas of neocortex. This strategic location suggests an integrative role of the claustrum across different sensory modalities. However, our knowledge of the synaptic relationship between the neocortex and the claustrum is basic. In this study, we address this question through a structural investigation of the claustral projection to the ipsilateral primary visual cortex of the cat. Light microscopic reconstructions of axons from the entire thickness of cortex showed a very sparse innervation of the entire cortical depth, with most synaptic boutons in layers 2/3 and 6. Axons bearing numerous boutons terminaux and boutons en passant branched in these laminae. The sparse innervation did not seem to be compensated by particularly large synapses, given that the postsynaptic densities in the superficial layers are of comparable sizes (0.1 mu m(2)) to other cortical synapses. All claustral synapses were asymmetric and in most cases targeted spines (87% in layer 4, 94% in layers 2/3 and 97% in layer 6). The pattern of innervation together with the known physiology of this projection suggests that the claustrum has a modulatory effect on visual cortex.