The central adrenergic system

Author(s): Swanson LW, Hartman BK


A sensitive immunofluorescence technique was used to describe systematically the distrubution of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH)-containing cell bodies, non-terminal fiber pathways, and terminal fields in the brain of the male albino rat. DBH is the enzyme that catalyzes the conversion of dopamine to noradrenaline, and as such is useful as an anatomical marker for noradrenaline and possibly adrenaline neurons. The enzyme is not present in dopamine- or indolamine-containing neurons. Ten micron frozen sections (1-in 20 series) were prepared in the frontal, sagittal, and horizontal planes from the olfactory bulb to the upper cervical segments of the spinal cord; adjacent sections in each plane were stained for DBH and for cells (toluidine blue=azure II). An atlas consisting of 40 projection drawings of selected frontal sections illustrates the results of the investigation. DBH perikarya are confined to three groups in the pons and medulla: the well defined locus coeruleus, a more diffuse but continuous subcoeruleus group that arches through the pons and ventral medulla, and a third dorsal medullary group centered in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus. A single principal adrenergic fiber system distributes a great many of the axons from these neuron groups to a majority of nuclear areas in the brain. In the pons and medulla two components of the fiber system may be distinguished. A medullary branch may be followed from the posterior aspect of the subcoeruleus group dorsally and then anteriorly through the lateral tegmental field and ventral aspect of the vestibular complex to a position subjacent to the locus coeruleus, where it is joined by a subcoeruleus branch consisting of a large number of fibers coursing among cells along the length of the subcoeruleus group, and by fibers arising from the locus coeruleus. Anterior to the locus coeruleus the principal adrenergic bundle courses as a single fiber tract immediately ventrolateral to the central gray in the mesencephalon and in the zona incerta and substantia innominata in the diencephalon. At the level of the septal area separate bundles reach the cortex dorsally over the genu of the corpus calosum via the medial septal-diagonal band nuclei and the lateral septum and ventrally between the olfactory tubercle and caudate-putamen. In the medulla and pons adrenergic fibers undoubtedly course in both directions. Anterior to the most rostral pontine cell bodies, however, all fibers presumably ascend. Along the course of the bundle distinct branches emerge to innervate circumscribed terminal fields. In addition, certain regions of the brain such as the reticular formation and pontine gray receive diffuse DBH innervation derived from less clearly defined pathways. A small number of areas in the brain contain little or no detectable DBH. These include the caudate-putamen, nucleus accumbens, globus pallidus, olfactory tubercle, subthalamic nucleus, substantia nigra, pretectal area, third, fourth and sixth cranial verve nuclei, and the trapezoid body nucleus.

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