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J Comp Neurol. 1999 Apr 5;406(2):171-82.

Anatomical demonstration of the suprachiasmatic nucleus-pineal pathway.

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Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Amsterdam.


A polysynaptic pathway is proposed to transmit light information from the retina through the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus (SCN) to the pineal. In the present study, the powerful transneuronal tracer, pseudorabies virus (PRV), was used to provide a detailed description of this pathway. PRV injected into the pineal subsequently labeled the superior cervical ganglion, the intermediolateral column of the upper thoracic cord, the autonomic division of the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN), and the SCN. Neurons in the autonomic division of the PVN were the only PRV-labeled neurons in the hypothalamus shown to receive input from the SCN as demonstrated by the presence of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide axonal contacts. This observation concurred with the presence of ventrally placed neurons in the SCN that could only be observed a day after the appearance of PVN-labeled neurons. Nevertheless the majority of the neurons were found in the dorsomedial position of the SCN, associated with the vasopressin-containing population of SCN neurons. Confocal laser scanning microscopy showed double-labeled neurons containing PRV and vasopressin or PRV and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide. Specificity of tracing was also established by prior removal of the superior cervical ganglion, resulting in a complete absence of the tracer but in the pineal. Thus, the present study provides the anatomical basis for circadian control of melatonin secretion.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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