Projections from the nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS) to autonomic control regions of the ventrolateral medulla, particularly the nucleus reticularis rostroventrolateralis (RVL), which serves as a tonic vasomotor center, were analyzed in rat by anterograde, retrograde, and combined axonal transport techniques.

Autonomic portions of the NTS, including its commissural, dorsal, intermediate, interstitial, ventral, and ventrolateral subnuclei directly project to RVL as well as to other regions of the ventrolateral medulla. The projections are organized topographically. Rostrally, a small cluster of neurons in the intermediate third of NTS, the subnucleus centralis, and neurons in proximity to the solitary tract selectively innervate neurons in the retrofacial nucleus and nucleus ambiguus. Neurons generally located in more caudal and lateral sites in the NTS innervate the caudal ventrolateral medulla (CVL). The RVL, CVL, and nucleus retroambiguus are interconnected.

A combined retrograde and anterograde transport technique was developed so as to prove that projections from NTS to the ventrolateral medulla specifically innervate the region of RVL containing neurons projecting to the thoracic spinal cord or the region of the nucleus containing vagal preganglionic neurons.

When the retrograde tracer, fast blue, was injected into the thoracic spinal cord, and wheat germ agglutinin-conjugate horseradish peroxidase (HRP) was injected into the NTS, anterogradely labeled terminals from the NTS surrounded the retrogradely labeled neurons in the RVL and in the nucleus retroambiguus in the caudal medulla. Among the bulbospinal neurons in the RVL innervated by the NTS were adrenaline-synthesizing neurons of the C1 group.

When fast blue was applied to the cervical vagus, and HRP was injected into the NTS, anterogradely labeled terminals from the NTS surrounded retrogradely labeled neurons in the rostral dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, the region of the nucleus ambiguus, the retrofacial nucleus, and the dorsal portion of the RVL, a region previously, shown to contain cardiac vagal preganglionic neurons. This combined anterograde and retrograde transport technique provides a useful method; for tracing disynaptic connections in the brain.

These data suggest that the RVL is part of a complex of visceral output regions in the ventrolateral medulla, all of which receive afferent projections from autonomic portions of the NTS. Bulbospinal neurons in the RVL, in particular the C1 adrenaline neurons, may provide a portion of the anatomic substrate of the baroreceptor and other visceral reflexes.