Organization of the projections of a circumventricular organ: The area postrema in the rat



The projections of the rat area postrema were analysed using antero-grade and retrograde axonal transport techniques. Discrete injections of wheat germ agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) into the area postrema produced anterograde labeling in specific medullary and pontine nuclei. In the medulla, anterograde labeling was present in the internal solitary zone and dorsal division of the medial solitary nucleus, both of which also contained a small number of retrogradely labeled perikarya. Prominent projections to the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus were seen only if the WGA-HRP injections in the area postrema invaded dorsal solitary nuclei. In the pons, anterograde labeling was present in the parabrachial nuclei, the dorsolateral Legmen tal nucleus, and the pericentral division of the dorsal tegmental nucleus. By far the major pontine projection was to the dorsolateral region of the middle one-third of the rostrocaudal extent of the parabrachial nuclei. Retrograde fluorescent tracing studies indicated that most area postrema neurons take part in this parabrachial projection. The area postrema projection to the parabrachial nuclei was bilaterally distributed, whereas that from the dorsal solitary nuclei was primarily ipsi-lateral. The external solitary zone, immediately subadjacent to the area postrema, neither received area postrema projections nor participated in the projections to the parabrachial nuclei. Fluorescent retrograde double labeling studies confirmed the bilateral nature of the area postrema projection to the parabrachial nuclei. In addition, because no doubly labeled neurons were observed it appears that individual area postrema neurons project to either side but not both sides of the dorsal pons. Thus, numerous neuronal pathways exist for the transfer of blood-borne information (that cannot cross the blood-brain barrier) from the area postrema to other brain regions.