Differential origin of brainstem serotoninergic projections to the midbrain periaqueductal gray and superior colliculus of the rat

Al J Beitz, J. R. Clements, M. A. Mullett, L. J. Ecklund

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Previous studies have shown that both the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG) and the superior colliculus receive a significant serotoninergic (5‐HT) innervation. In the present study the origins of these 5‐HT projections to the rodent PAG and superior colliculus were analyzed by using a combined immunohistochemical‐retrograde transport technique. Thirteen brainstem regions were found to contain double‐labelled 5‐HT‐like immunoreactive neurons following HRP injections into the PAG while only four brainstem nuclei contained double‐labelled neurons following superior collicular injections. After HRP deposits into the ventral PAG, the largest percentage of double‐labelled neurons was identified in nucleus raphe magnus, pars alpha of the nucleus gigantocellularis, and the paragigantocellular nucleus. The dorsal PAG, on the other hand, received the largest percentage of its 5‐HT projections from nuclei raphe dorsalis, raphe obscurus, raphe pontis, and raphe medianis. The 5‐HT input to the superior colliculus was found to arise exclusively from nuclei raphe dorsalis, raphe medianis, and raphe pontis and from the contralateral periaqueductal gray. Raphe nuclei were found to contribute serotoninergic projections to both the PAG and the superior colliculus while reticular nuclei contributed 5‐HT projections only to the PAG. Injections of the fluorescent retrograde tracers true blue and nuclear yellow were then made into the PAG and superior colliculus to ascertain if neurons located in raphe nuclei that projected to both structures provided axon collaterals to both areas. Generally, less than 10% of raphe neurons projecting to the superior collicuius were identified as providing axon collaterals to the PAG. The present results demonstrate major quantitative and qualitative differences in the origin of 5‐HT projections to the ventral PAG and superior colliculus. The origin of 5‐HT input to the dorsal PAG, on the other hand, showed many similarities to the origin of 5‐HT innervation of the superior colliculus. These data also indicate that approximately 35% of raphe neurons provide nonserotoninergic projections to the PAG and superior colliculus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-509
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 22 1986


  • PAG
  • axon collaterals
  • fluorescent retrograde tracers
  • paragigantocellular reticular nucleus
  • raphe nuclei
  • serotonin

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