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Projections from the superior colliculus to the trigeminal system and facial nucleus in the rat



To determine the influence of the superior colliculus (SC) in orienting behaviors, we examined SC projections to the sensory trigeminal complex, the juxtatrigeminal region, and the facial motor nucleus in rats. Anterograde tracer experiments in the SC demonstrated predominantly contralateral colliculotrigeminal projections. Microinjections in the deep layers of the lateral portion showed labeled nerve fibers and terminals in the ventromedial parts of the caudal principal nucleus and of the rostral oral subnucleus and in the medial part of the interpolar subnucleus. Some terminals were also observed in the juxtatrigeminal region and in the dorsolateral part of the facial motor nucleus contralaterally, overlying the orbicularis oculi motoneuronal region. Verification by retrograde tracer injections into the trigeminal target regions showed labeled SC neurons mostly in lateral portions of layers 4–7. When the juxtatrigeminal region was involved, a remarkable increase of labeled neurons was observed, having a patch-like arrangement with a decreasing gradient from lateral to medial SC portions. Retrograde tracer injections in the dorsolateral VII nucleus showed bilateral labeled neurons mainly in the deep lateral SC portion. Retrograde BDA microinjections into the same trigeminal or juxtatrigeminal regions, followed by gold-HRP into the dorsolateral VII nucleus, demonstrated a significant number of SC neurons in deep layers 6–7 projecting to both structures by axon collaterals. These neurons are mediolaterally grouped in patches along the rostrocaudal SC extent; a subset of them are immunoreactive for glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD). They could be involved in the coordination of facial movements. Simultaneous anterograde and retrograde tracer injections into the lateral SC portion and the VII nucleus respectively localized trigeminofacial neurons receiving collicular input in the trigeminal principal nucleus and pars oralis. Therefore the SC should play a crucial role in regulating motor programs of both eye and eyelid movements. J. Comp. Neurol. 478:233–247, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.