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J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2016 Jul;123(7):731-736. doi: 10.1007/s00702-016-1530-9. Epub 2016 Mar 5.

Structural and functional considerations of the cholinergic brainstem.

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Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Aidekman Research Center, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, 07102, USA.


Cholinergic neurons of the brainstem have traditionally been associated with a role in wakefulness as part of the reticular activating system, but their function cannot be explained solely on the basis of their modulation of the brain state. Recent findings about their connectivity and functional heterogeneity suggest a wider role in behavior, where basal ganglia is at the center of their influence. This review focuses on recent findings that suggest an intrinsic functional organization of the cholinergic brainstem that is closely correlated with its connectivity with midbrain and forebrain circuits. Furthermore, recent evidence on the temporal structure of the activation of brainstem cholinergic neurons reveals fundamental aspects about the nature of cholinergic signaling. Consideration of the cholinergic brainstem complex in the context of wider brain circuits is critical to understand its contribution to normal behavior.


Arousal; Cholinergic; Laterodorsal tegmental; Pedunculopontine; Phasic; Reticular activating system

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