Organization of ascending hypothalamic projections to the rostral forebrain with special reference to the innervation of cholinergic projection neurons

William E. Cullinan, László Záborszky

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Axonal projections from hypothalamic nuclei to the basal forebrain, and their relation to cholinergic projection neurons in particular, were studied in the rat by using the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris‐leucoagglutinin (PHA‐L) in combination with choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) immunocytochemistry. Discrete iontophoretic PHA‐L injections were delivered to different portions of the caudal lateral hypothalamus, as well as to various medial hypothalamic areas, including the ventromedial, dorsomedial, and paraventricular nuclei, and anterior hypothalamic and medial preoptic areas. The simultaneous detection of PHA‐L‐labeled fibers/terminals and ChAT‐positive neurons was performed by using nickel‐enhanced diaminobenzidine (DAB) and nonenhanced DAB as chromogens. Selected cases were investigated at the electron microscopic level. Ascending hypothalamic projections maintained an orderly lateromedial arrangement within the different components of the medial forebrain bundle, as well as with respect to their terminal projection fields (e.g., within the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and lateral septal nucleus). The distribution pattern of hypothalamic inputs to cholinergic projection neurons corresponded to the topography of ascending hypothalamic axons. Axons originating from neurons in the far‐lateral hypothalamus reached cholinergic neurons in a zone that extended from the dorsal part of the sublenticular substantia innominata (SI) caudolaterally, to the lateral portion of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis rostromedially, encompassing a narrow band along the ventral part of the globus pallidus and medial portion of the internal capsule. Axons originating from cells in the medial portion of the lateral hypothalamus reached cholinergic cells primarily in more medial and ventral parts of the SI, and in the magnocellular preoptic nucleus and horizontal limb of the diagonal band nucleus (HDB). Axons from medial hypothalamic cells appeared to contact cholinergic neurons primarily in the medial part of the HDB, and in the medial septum/vertical limb of the diagonal band complex. Electron microscopic double‐labeling experiments confirmed contacts between labeled terminals and cholinergic cells in the HDB and SI. Individual hypothalamic axons established synapses with both cholinergic and noncholinergic neuronal elements in the same regions. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the organization of afferents to the basal forebrain cholinergic projection system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)631-667
Number of pages37
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 22 1991
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin
  • choline acetyltransferase
  • electron microscopy
  • forebrain organization

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