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Neuroscience. 1992 Sep;50(1):149-62.

Morphological differences between projection neurons of the core and shell in the nucleus accumbens of the rat.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, Free University. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The somatodendritic morphology of projection neurons in the shell and core of the rat nucleus accumbens was studied. These cells were retrogradely labelled with Fast Blue from the ventral mesencephalon (substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area) and subsequently injected intracellularly with Lucifer Yellow and processed immunocytochemically. Digitized reconstructions revealed that the cell bodies of neurons located throughout the nucleus are small-to-medium in size. Neurons in the shell have significantly fewer dendritic arbours with fewer branch segments, fewer terminal segments, and lower spine densities than those in the core. Values for the same parameters are significantly greater for cells in lateral than in medial parts of the shell but the same for neurons located within and without enkephalin enriched parts of the core, with an exception of spine density being significantly greater in the enkephalin-rich compartment. Calculations based on these data reveal that neurons in the core have as much as 50% more surface area than those in the shell, which suggests that core neurons have a greater potential for collecting synaptic information than have shell cells. Furthermore, the differential distribution and action of various neurochemicals such as dopamine in the shell and core, supports the idea that different morphologies reflect the presence of distinct neuronal circuits in these two territories.

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