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Neuroscience. 2007 Jan 19;144(2):623-35. Epub 2006 Nov 13.

Catecholaminergic neurons in medullary nuclei are among the post-synaptic targets of descending projections from infralimbic area 25 of the rat medial prefrontal cortex.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.


The infralimbic (IL) 'visceromotor' area of the rat medial prefrontal cortex projects to strategic subcortical nuclei involved in autonomic functions. Central among these targets are the nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) and the rostral ventrolateral medulla (rVLM). By combining tract-tracing using the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) with immunolabeling for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH; an enzyme marker of catecholaminergic neurons), a limited proportion of BDA-labeled IL axonal boutons in the NTS and rVLM was found to be closely associated with TH immunopositive (+) target structures. Such structural appositions were mainly located proximally over the labeled dendritic arbors of identified TH+ neurons. Quantitative ultrastructural examination revealed that in NTS, TH+ dendritic shafts comprised 7.0% of the overall post-synaptic target population innervated by BDA-labeled IL boutons, whereas TH+ dendritic spines represented 1.25% of targets. In rVLM, TH+ shafts represented 9.0% and TH+ spines 2.5% of IL targets. Labeled IL boutons established exclusively asymmetric Gray Type 1 (presumed excitatory) synaptic junctions. The results indicate that subpopulations of catecholaminergic neurons in the NTS and rVLM are among the spectrum of post-synaptic neurons monosynaptically innervated by descending 'excitatory' input from IL cortex. Such connectivity, albeit restricted, identifies the potential direct influence of IL cortex on the processing and distribution of cardiovascular, respiratory and related autonomic information by catecholaminergic neurons in the NTS and VLM of the rat.

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