Catecholaminergic neurons in the ventrolateral medulla and nucleus of the solitary tract in the human

Author(s): Arango V, Ruggiero DA, Callaway JL, Anwar M, Mann JJ, et al.


Catecholaminergic neurons in the ventrolateral medulla (VLM) and nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) are important because of their presumed roles in autonomic regulation, including the tonic and reflex control of arterial pressure, neuroendocrine functions, and the chemosensitivity associated with the ventral medullary surface. However, little is known about the connections of these neurons in the human brain. As a first step in analyzing the functional biochemical anatomy of catecholamine neurons in the human, we used antisera against tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) to localize medullary catecholamine-containing neurons and processes in the VLM and the NTS. Cells staining for TH were located throughout the VLM. Most cells staining for TH and PNMT, which are therefore adrenergic, occurred in an area of the VLM probably corresponding to the rostroventrolateral reticular nucleus. Axons of TH-immunoreactive neurons in the VLM projected (1) dorsally, in a series of parallel transtegmental trajectories, toward the dorsomedial reticular formation, the NTS, and vagal motor nucleus, (2) longitudinally, through the central tegmental field, as fascicles running parallel to the neuraxis, (3) ventrolaterally toward the ventral surface (VS) of the rostral VLM where they appeared to terminate, and (4) medially into the raphe, where they arborized. Similar systems of fibers were labeled for PNMT; the longitudinal bundles of PNMT-labeled axons were limited to the principal tegmental bundle and concentrated dorsally. Fibers containing PNMT were also identified in the medullary raphe, on the medullary ventral surface, and contacting intraparenchymal blood vessels. In the NTS, neurons exhibited immunoreactivity to both TH and PNMT: Four principal subgroups of TH-immunoreactive neurons were seen: a ventral, an intermediate, a medial, and a dorsal group. Perikarya containing PNMT were restricted to the dorsolateral aspect of the NTS. Processes containing TH and PNMT immunoreactivity were identified in the medial and dorsolateral NTS; others appeared to project between the NTS and the VLM and within the solitary tract. The presence of catecholaminergic fibers of the VLM interconnecting with the NTS, raphe, intraparenchymal microvessels, VS, and possibly the spinal cord suggests that the autonomic and chemoreceptor functions attributed to these neurons also may apply to the human.

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