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J Comp Neurol. 2004 Feb 2;469(2):170-84.

GABAergic projection from the ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra to the periaqueductal gray region and the dorsal raphe nucleus.

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Division of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, A1B 3V6, Canada.


Previous studies have shown that neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra (SN) project to the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (PAGvl) and dorsal raphe nucleus (DR). Research has also shown that stimulation of neurons in the VTA/SN elicits cardiovascular depressor responses that are mediated by a projection to the PAGvl/DR. Anatomic and physiological experiments were done in the present study to determine the neurochemical identity of the VTA/SN projection to the PAGvl/DR. Experiments were done to characterize the origin and chemical nature of this projection by combining cholera toxin B tracing with immunofluorescence for the 67K isoform of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and tyrosine hydroxylase. The PAGvl/DR region was found to receive a substantial input from neurons in the VTA, SN, and deep mesencephalic nucleus. The DR was preferentially innervated by neurons in the VTA, whereas the PAGvl was preferentially innervated by neurons in the SN. A proportion of neurons in the VTA and the reticular portion of the SN found to project to the PAGvl/DR were GAD positive. In addition, experiments were done in urethane-anesthetized rats to determine whether injections of a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) antagonist in the region of the PAGvl/DR attenuated the cardiovascular depressor responses produced by glutamate stimulation of the VTA/SN. Injections of the GABA-blocking agent picrotoxin (2.5 nmol, 500 nl) into the PAGvl/DR eliminated the cardiovascular responses from stimulation of the VTA/SN (0.01 M, 50 nl). The results of the present investigation provide evidence for a GABAergic projection from the VTA/SN to the PAGvl/DR. This projection may be an important regulator of the PAGvl/DR, an area of the midbrain involved in the production of behavioral and physiological responses to pain and stress.

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