Characterization of neurochemically specific projections from the locus coeruleus with respect to somatosensory-related barrels

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Abstract

Tactile information from the rodent mystacial vibrissae is relayed through the ascending trigeminal somatosensory system. At each level of this pathway, the whiskers are represented by a unique pattern of dense cell aggregates, which in layer IV of cortex are known as “barrels.” Afferent inputs from the dorsal thalamus have been demonstrated repeatedly to correspond rather precisely with this modular organization. However, axonal innervation patterns from other brain regions such as the noradrenergic locus coeruleus are less clear. A previous report has suggested that norepinephrine-containing fibers are concentrated in the center/hollow of the barrel, while other studies have emphasized a more random distribution of monoaminergic projections. To address this issue more directly, individual tissue sections were histochemically processed for cytochrome oxidase in combination with dopamine-β-hydroxylase, the synthesizing enzyme for norepinephrine, or the neuropeptide galanin. These two neuroactive agents were of particular interest because they colocalize in a majority of locus coeruleus neurons and terminals. Our data indicate that discrete concentrations or local arrays of dopamine-β-hydroxylase- or galanin-immunoreactive fibers are not apparent within the cores of individual barrels. As such, the data suggest that cortical inputs from the locus coeruleus are not patterned according to cytoarchitectural landmarks or the neurochemical identity of coeruleocortical efferents. While transmitter-specific actions of norepinephrine and/or galanin may not be derived from the laminar/spatial connections of locus coeruleus axons, the possibility remains that the release of these substances may mediate distinctive events through the localization of different receptor subclasses, or the contact of their terminals onto cells with certain morphological characteristics or ultrastructural components. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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