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Nigrostriatal collaterals to thalamus degenerate in parkinsonian animal models



Movement, cognition, emotion, and positive reinforcement are influenced by mesostriatal, mesocortical, and mesolimbic dopamine systems. Here, we describe a fourth major pathway originating from mesencephalic dopamine neurons: a mesothalamic system. The dopamine transporter, specific to dopamine containing axons, was histochemically visualized in thalamic motor and limbic-related nuclei and regions that modulate behavioral state as opposed to sensory nuclei in rats, nonhuman primates, and humans. Anatomical tracing established this innervation's origin via axon collaterals from the mesostriatal pathway. These findings implicate the thalamus as a novel site for disease specific alterations in dopamine neurotransmission, such as exist with nigral degeneration attending Parkinson's disease. This was confirmed in hemiparkinsonian animals where reduction of thalamic dopamine innervation occurred coincident with signs of active axonal degeneration. Individual mesencephalic dopamine neurons therefore have the potential to modulate normal and pathologic behavior not only through traditional nigrostriatal pathways but also by way of axon collaterals that innervate the thalamus.