The nucleus paragigantocellularis in the ventrolateral medulla has been implicated in cardiovascular, pain, and analgesic functions; and it has also been found to be a major afferent to the pontine nucleus locus coeruleus. In the present study, afferents to the nucleus paragigantocellularis were identified in the rat by means of the retrograde tracers wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase or Fluoro-Gold.
Projections to the nucleus paragigantocellularis arise from a wide variety of nuclei with autonomic, visceral, and sensory-related functions. Major afferents with consistent and robust retrograde labeling include most laminae of the spinal cord, the caudal lateral medulla, the contralateral paragigantocellularis, the nucleus of the solitary tract, the A1 area, the lateral parabrachialis, the Kölliker-Fuse nucleus, the periaqueductal gray, and a preoculomotor nucleus in the ventral central gray, the supraoculomotor nucleus. Other notable afferents, seen only after large caudal injections into the nucleus paragigantocellularis, include the lateral hypothalamus, the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus, and the medial prefrontal cortex. Minor afferents include the gigantocellular nucleus, the area postrema, the caudal raphe groups, the inferior colliculus, the A5 area, and the locus coeruleus.
The projection from the supraoculomotor nucleus, not previously reported as an afferent to the ventrolateral medulla, was confirmed with anterograde tracing by means of Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin. Iontophoretic deposits of Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin into the nucleus of the solitary tract (commissuralis level) or into the periaqueductal gray also yielded terminal fiber labeling in the nucleus paragigantocellularis. Fibers from the supraoculomotor nucleus and the nucleus of the solitary tract were densest in the lateral aspect of the nucleus paragigantocellularis (corresponding to the rostroventrolateral reticular nucleus), while fibers from the periaqueductal gray were more medially located.
Previous studies have defined inputs to the rostral ventrolateral medulla from the cochlear nucleus as well as from the colliculi. In the present study, deposits of wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase or Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin into the cochlear nucleus or the superior colliculus yielded only sparse anterograde labeling in the nucleus paragigantocellularis, but heavily labeled adjacent areas. The inferior collicular injections yielded strong but restricted anterograde labeling in the rostromedial paragigantocellularis, medial to the facial nucleus.
These results indicate that the paragigantocellularis area receives inputs from diverse brain structures. Neurons in the nucleus paragigantocellularis afferent to the locus coeruleus, being distributed throughout this region, may provide a channel where several types of information are integrated and transmitted to the extensive locus coeruleus noradrenergic efferent network. Further studies are needed to determine which afferents to, and functions of, the nucleus paragigantocellularis are predominant in its regulation of the locus coeruleus.