Organization of amygdaloid projections to the mediodorsal thalamus and prefrontal cortex: a fluorescence retrograde transport study in the rat

A J McDonald
Journal of Comparative Neurology 1987 August 1, 262 (1): 46-58
Previous studies have shown that the amygdala projects to both the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) and its cortical projection area, the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In this investigation rats received injections of different fluorescent retrograde tracers (true blue and diamidino yellow) into MD and either the lateral, polar, or medial PFC in order to examine the relationship of amygdaloid neurons with cortical and/or thalamic projections. PFC injections labeled neurons in the basolateral (BL), basomedial (BM), ventral endopiriform (EnV), and rostral lateral nuclei as well as the periamygdaloid cortex (PAC) and the medial part of the amygdalohippocampal area (AHA). In BL, which contained the great majority of neurons projecting to PFC, most labeled cells were concentrated in particular parts of the nucleus and were topographically organized. The overwhelming majority of labeled neurons in BL were large pyramidal or piriform cells that correspond to class I neurons described in Golgi studies. Occasional small neurons with thin dendrites were also observed; these cells may be class II neurons. MD injections labeled numerous cells in the anterior division of the cortical nucleus, medial nucleus, and caudomedial part of the central nucleus. Moderate numbers of labeled cells were found in caudal portions of BM and PAC, whereas scattered cells were observed throughout the rest of the amygdala with the exception of the lateral nucleus. In BL and AHA many MD-projecting neurons were observed along nuclear boundaries and in the adjacent white matter. Neurons in BL, BM, and AHA usually had large elongated or irregular somata and two to four primary dendrites that branched sparingly. Other cells had smaller ovoid somata. The morphology and distribution of MD-projection cells in the basolateral amygdala indicate that they are primarily large class II neurons. Double-labeled amygdaloid neurons, labeled by both cortical and thalamic injections, were observed only in a small number of animals. Control experiments suggest that most of the double-labeled cells in these cases were artifacts caused by spread of the thalamic injectate into the third ventricle with subsequent uptake by fibers in the anterior commissure. Thus the findings of this study suggest that different neuronal populations in the amygdala project to the two poles of the MD-PFC system. In the basolateral amygdala class I neurons are the predominant cell type involved in PFC projections, whereas a subpopulation of class II neurons, hitherto thought to be primarily local-circuit neurons, project to MD.

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