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Keywords:

  • central pattern generator;
  • motor cortex;
  • facial nucleus;
  • brainstem;
  • rat

Abstract

Neuroanatomical tract-tracing methods were used to identify the oligosynaptic circuitry by which the whisker representation of the motor cortex (wMCx) influences the facial motoneurons that control whisking activity (wFMNs). Injections of the retrograde tracer cholera toxin subunit B into physiologically identified wFMNs in the lateral facial nucleus resulted in dense, bilateral labeling throughout the brainstem reticular formation and in the ambiguus nucleus as well as predominantly ipsilateral labeling in the paralemniscal, pedunculopontine tegmental, Kölliker-Fuse, and parabrachial nuclei. In addition, neurons in the following midbrain regions projected to the wFMNs: superior colliculus, red nucleus, periaqueductal gray, mesencephalon, pons, and several nuclei involved in oculomotor behaviors. Injections of the anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine into the wMCx revealed direct projections to the brainstem reticular formation as well as multiple brainstem and midbrain structures shown to project to the wFMNs. Regions in which retrograde labeling and anterograde labeling overlap most extensively include the brainstem parvocellular, gigantocellular, intermediate, and medullary (dorsal and ventral) reticular formations; ambiguus nucleus; and midbrain superior colliculus and deep mesencephalic nucleus. Other regions that contain less dense regions of combined anterograde and retrograde labeling include the following nuclei: the interstitial nucleus of medial longitudinal fasciculus, the pontine reticular formation, and the lateral periaqueductal gray. Premotoneurons that receive dense inputs from the wMCx are likely to be important mediators of cortical regulation of whisker movements and may be a key component in a central pattern generator involved in the generation of rhythmic whisking activity. J. Comp. Neurol. 442:266–276, 2002. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.