Structural and functional considerations of the cholinergic brainstem

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Cholinergic neurons of the brainstem have traditionally been associated with a role in wakefulness as part of the reticular activating system, but their function cannot be explained solely on the basis of their modulation of the brain state. Recent findings about their connectivity and functional heterogeneity suggest a wider role in behavior, where basal ganglia is at the center of their influence. This review focuses on recent findings that suggest an intrinsic functional organization of the cholinergic brainstem that is closely correlated with its connectivity with midbrain and forebrain circuits. Furthermore, recent evidence on the temporal structure of the activation of brainstem cholinergic neurons reveals fundamental aspects about the nature of cholinergic signaling. Consideration of the cholinergic brainstem complex in the context of wider brain circuits is critical to understand its contribution to normal behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-736
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neural Transmission
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


  • Arousal
  • Cholinergic
  • Laterodorsal tegmental
  • Pedunculopontine
  • Phasic
  • Reticular activating system


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