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Neuroscience. 1999;94(2):529-47.

Characterization of the extent of pontomesencephalic cholinergic neurons' projections to the thalamus: comparison with projections to midbrain dopaminergic groups.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.


We sought to determine whether pontomesencephalic cholinergic neurons which we have been shown previously to project to the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area also contribute to the thalamic activation projection from the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei. Retrograde tracing, immunohistochemical localization of choline acetyltransferase and statistical methods were used to determine the full extent of the cholinergic projection from the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei to the thalamus. Progressively larger Fluoro-Gold injections in to the thalamus proportionally labeled increasing numbers of pontomesencephalic cholinergic cells both ipsi- and contralaterally in the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei. Multiple large thalamic injections left only a small fraction of the ipsilateral pontomesencephalic cholinergic group unlabeled. This small remainder did not correspond to the populations which project to the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area, thereby indicating that substantia nigra- and ventral tegmental area-projecting cholinergic neurons must also project to the thalamus. We examined whether there existed any set of cholinergic neurons in the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei which did not innervate a thalamic target. The distribution of descending projections of the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei demonstrated that the unlabeled remainder cannot correspond to a purely descending group. We also show that substance P-positive cholinergic cells in the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus project to the thalamus. Further studies demonstrated that the small population of cholinergic cells left unlabeled from the thalamus were the smallest sized cholinergic cells, and included two groups of small, light-staining cholinergic cells located in the parabrachial area and central gray, adjacent to the main pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei cholinergic groups. These small cells, in contrast to thalamic-projecting cholinergic cells, did not stain positively for reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate-diaphorase. Taken together, these results indicated that all of the reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate diaphorase-positive/choline acetyltransferase-positive neurons of the pedunculopontine/laterodorsal tegmental nuclei ascend to innervate some portion of the thalamus, in addition to the other targets they innervate. These findings indicate that the diverse physiological and behavioral effects attributed to the activity of pontomesencephalic cholinergic neurons should not be dissociated from their activating effects in the thalamus.

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