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Neuroscience. 1986 Jun;18(2):307-19.

Efferent projections of nucleus locus coeruleus: morphologic subpopulations have different efferent targets.


This study quantitatively addresses the hypothesis that there is a systematic relationship between the morphologic characteristics of locus neurons and the particular target regions they innervate. Following horseradish peroxidase injections into selected terminal fields, locus coeruleus cell bodies are heavily labeled by retrograde transport so that somata size and shape, and in many cases primary dendritic pattern can be observed. This allows the classification of neurons as one of six cell types: large multipolar cells within ventral locus coeruleus, large multipolar cells in the anterior pole of locus coeruleus, fusiform cells in dorsal LC, posterior pole cells, medium-sized multipolar cells (termed core cells in this report), and small round cells. It was found that while core cells contribute to the innervation of all terminal fields examined, other cell types project to more restricted sets of targets. The contributions of each type to selected efferents are presented in detail. In particular, fusiform cells project to hippocampus and cortex, large multipolar cells in ventral locus coeruleus project to spinal cord and cerebellum, and small round cells in central and anterior locus coeruleus, as well as large multipolar cells in anterior locus coeruleus, project to hypothalamus. These results, in conjunction with those described in the preceding report, indicate that locus coeruleus is intrinsically organized with respect to efferent projections with much more specificity than has previously been evident. This high degree of organization is consistent with other recent demonstrations of functional specificity exhibited by locus coeruleus neurons.

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