We recently demonstrated that large numbers of neurons in the spinal cord of rats project directly to the hypothalamus. In the present study, we used the retrograde tracer Fluoro‐Gold (FG) to examine this projection more completely. In the first series ofss studies, we attempted to label the entire population of spinal cord neurons that project to the hypothalamus. Injections that virtually filled the hypothalamus on one side without spreading into any other diencephalic area labeled a large number of neurons (estimated to be more than 9,000 in the case with the most neurons labeled) bilaterally at all levels of the spinal cord. Approximately 60° of the labeled neurons were contralateral to the injection. The greatest number of labeled neurons was found within the deep dorsal horn. Many were also found within the lateral spinal nucleus, the superficial dorsal horn, and the gray matter surrounding the central canal. A small number of labeled cells was located in the intermediate zone and ventral horn of the spinal gray matter. Labeled neurons were distributed bilaterally within the sacral parasympathetic nucleus and trigeminal nucleus caudalis. Injections of FG restricted to the medial hypothalamus labeled neurons within the spinal cord in a distribution similar to that produced by injections that filled the hypothalamus. However, fewer neurons were labeled in the spinal cord (estimated to be more than 6,200) and trigeminal nucleus caudalis. Injections of FG restricted to the lateral hypothalamus also labeled fewer neurons (approximately 3,300) than did injections that filled the hypothalamus. In these cases, also, the pattern of labeled neurons within the spinal cord was similar to that produced by injections within either medial or both medial and lateral hypothalamus. However, few neurons were labeled in the sacral parasympathetic nucleus following injections into the lateral hypothalamus. These findings show the distribution of a large number of spinal cord neurons that project directly to medial or lateral hypothalamic regions that are involved in autonomic, neuroendocrine, and emotional responses to somatosensory stimulation, including painful stimuli.
- retrograde transport
- sacral parasympathetic nucleus
- spinal cord