We examined the subnuclear organization of projections to the parabrachial nucleus (PB) from the nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), area postrema, and medullary reticular formation in the rat by using the anterograde and retrograde transport of wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase conjugate and anterograde tracing with Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin. Different functional regions of the NTS/area postrema complex and medullary reticular formation were found to innervate largely nonoverlapping zones in the PB.
The general visceral part of the NTS, including the medial, parvicellular, intermediate, and commissural NTS subnuclei and the core of the area postrema, projects to restricted terminal zones in the inner portion of the external lateral PB, the central and dorsal lateral PB subnuclei, and the “waist” area. The dorsomedial NTS subnucleus and the rim of the area postrema specifically innervate the outer portion of the external lateral PB subnucleus. In addition, the medial NTS innervates the caudal lateral part of the external medial PB subnucleus.
The respiratory part of the NTS, comprising the ventrolateral, intermediate, and caudal commissural subnuclei, is reciprocally connected with the Kölliker-Fuse nucleus, and with the far lateral parts of the dorsal and central lateral PB subnuclei. There is also a patchy projection to the caudal lateral part of the external medial PB subnucleus from the ventrolateral NTS.
The rostral, gustatory part of the NTS projects mainly to the caudal medial parts of the PB complex, including the “waist” area, as well as more rostrally to parts of the medial, external medial, ventral, and central lateral PB subnuclei.
The connections of different portions of the medullary reticular formation with the PB complex reflect the same patterns of organization, but are reciprocal. The periambiguus region is reciprocally connected with the same PB subnuclei as the ventrolateral NTS; the rostral ventrolateral reticular nucleus with the same PB subnuclei as both the ventrolateral (respiratory) and medial (general visceral) NTS; and the parvicellular reticular area, adjcent to the rostral NTS, and with parts of the central and ventral lateral and the medial PB subnuclei that also receive rostral (gustatory) NTS input. In addition, the rostral ventrolateral reticular nucleus and the parvicellular reticular formation have more extensive connections with parts of the rostal PB and the subjacent reticular formation that recieve little if any NTS input.
The PB contains a series of topographically complex terminal domains reflecting the functional organization of its afferent sources in the NTS and medullary reticular formation.