The sources and histochemical characteristics of dopaminergic projections to motor and premotor areas of cortex were investigated in owl monkeys in which information from related studies was used to subdivide cortex into motor fields. Brainstem projections to frontal cortex were identified by injections of different fluorescent dyes in the primary motor cortex (M1) and the supplementary motor area (SMA), first identified by microstimulation. Injections were also placed in dorsal premotor cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex. The distribution of retrogradely labeled neurons was related to the location of tyrosine hydroxylase immunolabeled neurons on the same or alternate brain sections to identify the dopamine (DA) neurons. All DA cortically projecting neurons were located in the A8–A10 complex, largely in its dorsal components, including the parabrachial pigmented n. of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), pars gamma of the substantia nigra compacta, and the dorsal part of the retrorubral area (A8). Fewer cells were in the midline groups of VTA (n. linearis rostralis and caudalis) and in the n. paranigralis. DA neurons projecting to M1, SMA, and prefrontal cortex were largely intermixed, and some of these neurons were double or triple labeled by the fluorescent dyes, indicating Collateralization to two or three fields; DA cells projecting to M1 were more numerous than to the other locations. The dorsal components of the A8–A10 complex from which arose the DA mesocortical projection were also characterized by the presence of calbindin-immunoreactive neurons and by a dense neurotensin and noradrenergic terminal innervation.
Compared to rodents or felines, the DA neurons projecting to the lateral frontal lobe of primates appear to be shifted dorsally and laterally in the nigral complex. The topographic overlap, partial Collateralization, and common histochemical characteristics of the DA mesocortical neurons projecting to different fields of the lateral frontal lobe suggest that some degree of functional unity exists within this projection. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.