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J Comp Neurol. 1992 Jul 15;321(3):404-20.

Diencephalic projections from the superficial and deep laminae of the medullary dorsal horn in the rat.

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Neurobiology and Anesthesiology Branch, National Institute of Dental Research, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


An important function of the medullary dorsal horn (MDH) is the relay of nociceptive information from the face and mouth to higher centers of the central nervous system. We studied the central projection pattern of axons arising from the MDH by examining the axonal transport of Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin (PHA-L). Labeled axon and axon terminal distributions arising from the MDH were analyzed at the light microscopic level. After large injections of PHA-L into both superficial and deep laminae of the MDH in the rat, labeled axons were observed in the nucleus submedius of the thalamus (SUB), ventroposterior thalamic nucleus medialis (VPM), ventroposterior thalamic nucleus parvicellularis (VPPC), posterior thalamic nuclei (PO), zona incerta (ZI), lateral hypothalamic nucleus (LH), and posterior hypothalamic nucleus (PH). Restriction of PHA-L into only the superficial laminae resulted in heavy axon and varicosity labeling in the SUB, VPM, PO, and VPPC and light labeling in LH. In contrast, after injections into deep laminae, labeled axons were mainly distributed in ZI and PH; some were also in VPM and LH, and fewer still in PO and SUB. Varicosities in VPM, SUB, and PO were significantly larger than those in VPPC, ZI, LH, and PH. Varicosity density was highest in SUB and lowest in the VPPC. We concluded that there are two distinct nociceptive pathways, one originating from the superficial MDH and terminating primarily in the dorsal diencephalon and the second originating from deep laminae of the MDH and terminating primarily in the ventral diencephalon. We propose that in the rat, input from the deeper laminae is primarily involved in the motivational-affective component of pain, whereas input from the superficial MDH is related to both the sensory-discriminative and motivational-affective component of pain.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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