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Biol Psychiatry. 1999 Nov 15;46(10):1352-63.

A.E. Bennett Research Award. Anatomic basis for differential regulation of the rostrolateral peri-locus coeruleus region by limbic afferents.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, USA.



Neurochemical and electrophysiological studies indicate that the locus coeruleus (LC)-norepinephrine system is activated by physiological and external stressors. This activation is mediated in part by corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), the hypothalamic neurohormone that initiates the endocrine response to stress. We have previously shown that the central nucleus of the amygdala (CNA) provides CRF afferents to noradrenergic processes in the peri-LC area that may serve to integrate emotional and cognitive responses to stress. The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) shares many anatomical and neurochemical characteristics with the CNA, including a high density of CRF-immunoreactive cells and fibers; however, recent studies have suggested that the CNA and the BNST may differentially regulate responses to conditioned and unconditioned fear, respectively, suggesting divergent neuroanatomical circuits underlying these processes.


In the present study, neuroanatomical substrates subserving regulation of the LC by the BNST were examined. Anterograde tract-tracing was combined with immunoelectron microscopy to test the hypotheses that BNST efferents target noradrenergic neurons of the LC and that these efferents exhibit immunolabeling for CRF.


Ultrastructural analysis of sections that were dually labeled for the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) injected into the BNST and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-immunoreactivity demonstrated that BDA-labeled axon terminals formed synaptic specializations (primarily inhibitory) with TH-labeled dendrites and dendrites that lacked TH immunoreactivity. In contrast to CNA efferents that exhibited substantial immunolabeling for CRF, far fewer BDA-labeled terminals from the BNST in the rostrolateral peri-LC contained CRF.


The present results indicate that the BNST may provide distinct neurochemical regulation of the peri-LC as compared to other limbic afferents such as the CNA. These data are interesting in light of behavioral studies showing that the CNA and BNST may be differentially involved in fear versus anxiety, respectively.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

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