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J Comp Neurol. 1996 Dec 16;376(3):361-85.

Distinct cell groups in the lumbosacral cord of the cat project to different areas in the periaqueductal gray.

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Department of Anatomy and Embryology, Faculty of Medicine, The Netherlands.


The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is involved in aggressive and defensive behavior, micturition, and lordosis. Especially for the latter two functions, PAG afferents from the lumbosacral cord are of vital importance because, in addition to information regarding homeostasis and thermoregulation, they convey information from the pelvic viscera and sex organs. In the present retro- and antero-grade tracing study, the projection patterns of different lumbosacral cell groups in the PAG were determined. In the retrograde study, wheatgerm agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) injections were made in the PAG and/or adjacent tegmentum, and in the anterograde study, WGA-HRP was injected in different lumbosacral segments. The results revealed that lumbosacral-PAG neurons could be divided into three groups. The first and largest group was present in lumbar 7-sacral 3 segments (L7-S3) and consisted of small, oval, and fusiform neurons. It extended from the dorsolateral part of lamina I in L7, along the lateral part of the dorsal horn in S1, and into lamina V of S2. In the lateral part of S2, some of its neurons formed clusters with intervals of +/- 230 microns. The location of the first group overlapped extensively with the termination area of pelvic and pudendal afferents. The main midbrain target of the first group was the medial part of the lateral PAG. The second group consisted of small to large multipolar neurons in laminae VIII and medial VII of caudal L6, L7, and rostral S1. This group projected strongly to a distinct region in the lateral part of the lateral PAG and the laterally adjacent tegmentum. About 10% of the labeled neurons did not fit in the two groups. They were evenly distributed throughout lumbar 4-coccygeal 3 segments (L4-Co3) and consisted of large multipolar lamina V neurons and small lamina I neurons that projected diffusely to the lateral and dorsal PAG. The large lamina V neurons also targeted the laterally adjacent tegmentum. The possible involvement of the lumbosacral-PAG projections in micturition, lordosis, and defensive and aggressive behavior is discussed.

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