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J Comp Neurol. 2009 Aug 1;515(4):397-408. doi: 10.1002/cne.22065.

GABAergic neuron distribution in the pedunculopontine nucleus defines functional subterritories.

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University of Oxford, United Kingdom.


gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurons are widely distributed in brainstem structures involved in the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle, locomotion, and attention. These brainstem structures include the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN), which is traditionally characterized by its population of cholinergic neurons that have local and wide-ranging connections. The functional heterogeneity of the PPN is partially explained by the topographic distribution of cholinergic neurons, but such heterogeneity might also arise from the organization of other neuronal populations within the PPN. To understand whether a topographical organization is also maintained by GABAergic neurons, we labeled these neurons by in situ hybridization for glutamic acid decarboxylase mRNA combined with immunohistochemistry for choline acetyltransferase to reveal cholinergic neurons. We analyzed their distribution within the PPN by using a method to quantify regional differences based on stereological cell counts. We show that GABAergic neurons of the rat PPN have a rostrocaudal gradient that is opposite to that of cholinergic neurons. Indeed, GABAergic neurons are predominantly concentrated in the rostral PPN; in addition, they form, along with cholinergic neurons, a small, high-density cluster in the most caudal portion of the nucleus. Thus, we provide evidence of heterogeneity in the distribution of different neuronal populations in the PPN and show that GABAergic and cholinergic neurons define neurochemically distinct areas. Our data suggest that the PPN is neurochemically segregated, and such differences define functional territories.

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