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J Comp Neurol. 2005 Nov 21;492(3):349-69.

Patterns of axonal branching of neurons of the substantia nigra pars reticulata and pars lateralis in the rat.

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División de Neurociencias, Centro de Investigación Médica Aplicada, Universidad de Navarra, 31080 Pamplona, Spain.


Axons from neurons of the rat substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) and pars lateralis (SNl) were traced after injecting their cell body with biotinylated dextran amine. Thirty-two single axons were reconstructed from serial sagittal sections with a camera lucida, whereas four other SNr axons were reconstructed in the coronal plane to determine whether they innervate the contralateral hemisphere. Four distinct types of SNr projection neurons were identified based on their main axonal targets: type I neurons that project to the thalamus; type II neurons that target the thalamus, the superior colliculus (SC), and the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPTg); type III neurons that project to the periaqueductal gray matter and the thalamus; and type IV neurons that target the deep mesencephalic nucleus (DpMe) and the SC. The axons of the SNl showed the same branching patterns as SNr axons of types I, II, and IV. The coronal reconstructions demonstrated that SNr neurons innervate the thalamus, the SC, and the DpMe bilaterally. At the thalamic level, SNr and SNl axons targeted preferentially the ventral medial, ventral lateral, paracentral, parafascicular, and mediodorsal nuclei. Axons reaching the SC arborized selectively within the deep layers of this structure. Our results reveal that the SNr and SNl harbor several subtypes of projection neurons endowed with a highly patterned set of axon collaterals. This organization allows single neurons of these output structures of the basal ganglia to exert a multifaceted influence on a wide variety of diencephalic and midbrain structures.

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