Projections from the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus to the rat prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens shell: Ultrastructural characteristics and spatial relationships with dopamine afferents


  • Drs. Pinto and Jankowski contributed equally to this work.


The paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) participates in the functional integration of limbic cortical and striatal circuitry. In the rat, the PVT projects to the deep layers of the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC) and to the shell of the nucleus accumbens (NAc). However, the synaptic organization of PVT afferents within these regions remains undescribed. Furthermore, although dopamine (DA) modulates excitatory glutamate transmission in both areas, possible anatomic substrates for specific DA modulation of PVT inputs have not yet been investigated. To address these issues, immunoperoxidase labeling for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) in DA axons was combined with anterograde tract-tracing, either by biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) labeled with immunogold–silver or by degeneration after lesions of the PVT. In both regions, and with either tracing method, PVT terminals formed primarily asymmetric axospinous synapses; in the NAc, a proportion of PVT terminals also synapsed onto dendrites. PVT profiles in both regions were often seen in direct apposition to TH-immunoreactive axons; this association was more evident in the NAc where the DA innervation is denser. Within the PFC, PVT profiles and TH-labeled axons were occasionally apposed to the same dendrites, but synaptic specializations were not typically seen at these seeming points of convergence. Within the NAc, PVT profiles occasionally made synapses onto spines and distal dendrites that received convergent synapses from TH-immunoreactive varicosities. These findings represent the first demonstration of postsynaptic convergence between DA and thalamic afferents to a striatal region and are consistent with direct synaptic modulation of PVT transmission by DA in the NAc but not the PFC. J. Comp. Neurol. 459:142–155, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.