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J Psychopharmacol. 2013 Aug;27(8):659-93. doi: 10.1177/0269881113490326. Epub 2013 Jun 12.

Functional neuroanatomy of the central noradrenergic system.

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Division of Psychiatry, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK.

Erratum in

  • J Psychopharmacol. 2013 Oct;27(10):964.


The central noradrenergic neurone, like the peripheral sympathetic neurone, is characterized by a diffusely arborizing terminal axonal network. The central neurones aggregate in distinct brainstem nuclei, of which the locus coeruleus (LC) is the most prominent. LC neurones project widely to most areas of the neuraxis, where they mediate dual effects: neuronal excitation by α₁-adrenoceptors and inhibition by α₂-adrenoceptors. The LC plays an important role in physiological regulatory networks. In the sleep/arousal network the LC promotes wakefulness, via excitatory projections to the cerebral cortex and other wakefulness-promoting nuclei, and inhibitory projections to sleep-promoting nuclei. The LC, together with other pontine noradrenergic nuclei, modulates autonomic functions by excitatory projections to preganglionic sympathetic, and inhibitory projections to preganglionic parasympathetic neurones. The LC also modulates the acute effects of light on physiological functions ('photomodulation'): stimulation of arousal and sympathetic activity by light via the LC opposes the inhibitory effects of light mediated by the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus on arousal and by the paraventricular nucleus on sympathetic activity. Photostimulation of arousal by light via the LC may enable diurnal animals to function during daytime. LC neurones degenerate early and progressively in Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, leading to cognitive impairment, depression and sleep disturbance.


Locus coeruleus; arousal; autonomic functions; brainstem; diencephalon; forebrain; neuroanatomy; noradrenaline; photomodulation; spinal cord; telencephalon

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