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Keywords:

  • pyramidal neurons;
  • infralimbic, prelimbic, and anterior cingulate cortices;
  • amygdalocortical afferents;
  • subcortical autonomic target regions

Abstract

The amygdala provides the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC; areas 25, 32, and 24b) with salient emotional information. This study investigated the synaptic connectivity of identified amygdalocortical boutons (ACBs; labeled anterogradely following injections of Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin into the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala), with the dendritic processes of identified layer 5 corticospinal neurons in the rat mPFC. The corticospinal (CS) neurons in the mPFC had been retrogradely labeled with rhodamine fluorescent latex microspheres and subsequently intracellularly filled with biotinylated lucifer yellow to visualize their basal and apical dendrites. Two main classes of mPFC CS neurons were identified. Type 1 cells had apical dendrites bearing numerous dendritic spines with radiate basal dendritic arbors. Type 2 cells possessed apical dendrites with greatly reduced spine densities and a broad range of basal dendritic tree morphologies. Identified ACBs made asymmetric synaptic junctions with labeled dendritic spines and the labeled apical and basal dendritic shafts of identified CS neurons. On average, eight ACBs were closely associated with the labeled basal dendritic arbors of type 1 CS neurons and five ACBs with type 2 CS basal dendrites. The mean Scholl distance of ACBs from CS somata (for both types 1 and 2 cells) was 66 μm—coinciding with a region containing the highest length density of CS neuron basal dendrites. These results indicate that neurons in the BLA can monosynaptically influence CS neurons in the mPFC that project to autonomic regions of the thoracic spinal cord and probably to other additional subcortical target regions, such as the lateral hypothalamus. J. Comp. Neurol. 520:2440–2458, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals Inc.