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J Neurosci. 2011 Jul 13;31(28):10392-402. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0595-11.2011.

Rules ventral prefrontal cortical axons use to reach their targets: implications for diffusion tensor imaging tractography and deep brain stimulation for psychiatric illness.

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Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, New York 14642, USA.


The ventral prefrontal cortex (vPFC) is involved in reinforcement-based learning and is associated with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and addiction. Neuroimaging is increasingly used to develop models of vPFC connections, to examine white matter (WM) integrity, and to target surgical interventions, including deep brain stimulation. We used primate (Macaca nemestrina/Macaca fascicularis) tracing studies and 3D reconstructions of WM tracts to delineate the rules vPFC projections follow to reach their targets. vPFC efferent axons travel through the uncinate fasciculus, connecting different vPFC regions and linking different functional regions. The uncinate fasciculus also is a conduit for vPFC fibers to reach other cortical bundles. Fibers in the internal capsule are organized according to destination. Thalamic fibers from each vPFC region travel dorsal to their brainstem fibers. The results show regional differences in the trajectories of fibers from different vPFC areas. Overall, the medial/lateral vPFC position dictates the route that fibers take to enter major WM tracts, as well as the position within specific tracts: axons from medial vPFC regions travel ventral to those from more lateral areas. This arrangement, coupled with dorsal/ventral organization of thalamic/brainstem fibers through the internal capsule, results in a complex mingling of thalamic and brainstem axons from different vPFC areas. Together, these data provide the foundation for dividing vPFC WM bundles into functional components and for predicting what is likely to be carried at different points through each bundle. These results also help determine the specific connections that are likely to be captured at different neurosurgical targets.

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