The adrenergic innervation of the thalamus, epithalamus, metathalamus, and subthalamus in the rat has been investigated by means of the recently introduced glyoxylic acid fluorescence method. Many areas of the thalamus and adjoining regions, that appear sparsely innervated by catecholamine (CA) fibers in specimens processed according to the standard Falck-Hillarp formaldehyde method, were found to be richly supplied with such fibres in the glyoxylic acid-treated specimens. Moreover, the glyoxylic acid method allows the tracing of the CA axons from the cell bodies up to the terminals, and in combination with stereotaxic lesions the following CA systems to the thalamus could be established:
- 1The locus coeruleus system. Most of these axons ascend in the so-called dorsal tegmental bundle through the mesencephalon and the zona incerta into the medial forebrain bundle. From this bundle branches were traced along several routes, giving rise to extensive terminal systems in many thalamic, metathalamic and pretectal areas, most notably the anterior, ventral and lateral nuclear complexes, and the medial and lateral geniculate bodies.
- 2The dorsal periventricular bundle, which constitutes a previously not described adrenergic component of the dorsal longitudinal fasciculus. This system originates in cell bodies (defined as the A11 cell group) in the dorsal raphe region, the central gray of the mesencephalon, and in the periventricular gray of the caudal thalamus. The axons ascend within the dorsal longitudinal fasciculus and give rise to a thalamic and hypothalamic periventricular system, projecting to medial and midline thalamic, epithalamic and pretectal regions.
- 3Part of the terminals in the paraventricular thalamic nucleus was identified with a non-locus projection from cell bodies in the pontine or medullary reticular formation.
- 4A system of delicate, probably dopamine-containing axons was revealed in the caudal thalamus, the zona incerta and the dorsal and anterior hypothalamus. This system probably originates in the dopamine cell bodies of the diencephalic A11 and A13 cell groups, forming a hitherto unknown intradiencephalic dopaminergic system.
The adrenergic afferent systems to the thalamus can, to a large extent, be regarded as adrenergic components of known ascending reticular projections. The information on the adrenergic systems obtained with the glyoxylic acid method revealed new features of the organization of the thalamic projections from the brain stem reticular formation.