The technique of intracellular recording and staining of the same neuron with horseradish peroxidase (HRP) was used to study the soma-dendritic and axonal morphology of nigrothalamic and nigrotectal cells in the rats.
The nigrothalamic and nigrotectal cells were spread throughout the dorsoventral extent of the pars reticulata (SNR) and exhibited the same soma-dendritic and axonal features. Both populations consisted of medium-sized and large cells with extensive dendritic fields overlapping in all three directions. Their axons collateralized within the substantia nigra (SN) and in the mesencephalic tegmentum. The intrinsic collaterals were thin and branched partly within the dendritic field of a parent cell partly in remote regions of the SNR, and even in the pars compacta (SNC). The extrinsic branches involved thin arborizations in the rostroventral mesencephalic reticular substance and thicker descending and ascending collaterals.
This material was supplemented by physiologically nonidentified HRP stained medium-sized and large neurons located in the SNR. The two kinds displayed the same extent and orientation of their dendrites but the branching patterns differed slightly. Proximal dendrites of all cells were coarse and smooth; thinner distal dendrites had varicosities and spinelike appendages. Some dendrites, especially those near the crus cerebri, terminated in dendritic thickets bearing many pleomorphic appendages.
The orientation of dendritic fields varied with dorsoventral position of cells within the SNR. The most ventral region of the SNR contained neurons with dendrites oriented parallel to the crus cerebri and thus remained confined to the deepest stratum. The dendrites of cells in the central region of SNR were oriented mainly anteroposteriorly and ventrally, the ventral dendrites terminating in the ventralmost layer. Cells in the dorsolateral part of the SNR were characterized by the large dorsoventral extent of their dendrites which penetrated the entire thickness of SN. This variation in the arrangement of dendritic fields indicates that the SN is organized in three dorsoventral layers.