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Keywords:

  • prefrontal cortex;
  • supplementary eye fields;
  • frontal eye fields;
  • supplementary motor area;
  • premotor cortex

Abstract

The prefrontal cortex has been defined as that cortical territory that has “essential or sustaining” connections with the mediodorsal (MD) nucleus of the thalamus (Rose and Woolsey [1948] Publ Assoc Res Nerv Ment Dis 27:210–232). However, recent studies in the monkey have documented projections from MD to the more caudal, agranular regions of the frontal cortex, suggesting that the connections of MD may be characterized by a breadth of distribution and diversity of functional roles too great to be useful as a unifying and defining feature for a specific cortical territory. In this study, we placed tracer injections in the lateral divisions of MD in cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) to assess the relative proportions of connections devoted to diverse regions of the frontal cortex (FC). Three different patterns of label were observed in the cortex, associated with different locations within lateral MD. We have designated these as the ventrolateral MD-arcuate FC circuit, having most label in areas 8 and 6; the caudoventral MD-dorsomedial FC circuit, having most label in areas 24 and presupplementary motor area (SMA); and the anterodorsal MD-anterior FC circuit, with the most label in areas 9, 46, 12, and 10. Only two of the nine cases injected in lateral MD were predominantly connected with the anterior FC. Thus, particular locales within lateral MD are connected with multiple, functionally diverse cortical regions, including several not classically recognized as “prefrontal” areas. This divergence may distinguish MD-frontocortical and reciprocal corticothalamic pathways from the largely segregated pathways arising from the other thalamic nuclei that are interconnected with the frontal cortex, such as those from the ventrolateral nuclear group. J. Comp. Neurol. 473:107–127, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.