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Specific populations of basal ganglia output neurons target distinct brain stem areas while collateralizing throughout the diencephalon

Authors: McElvain, Lauren E.; Chen, Yuncong; Moore, Jeffrey D.; Brigidi, G. Stefano; Bloodgood, Brenda L.; Lim, Byung Kook; Costa, Rui M.; Kleinfeld, David

Online: https://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(21)00187-2

Issue: Neuron . 2021 May 19;109(10):1721-1738.e4.


Basal ganglia play a central role in regulating behavior, but the organization of their outputs to other brain areas is incompletely understood. We investigate the largest output nucleus, the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), and delineate the organization and physiology of its projection populations in mice. Using genetically targeted viral tracing and whole-brain anatomical analysis, we identify over 40 SNr targets that encompass a roughly 50-fold range of axonal densities. Retrograde tracing from the volumetrically largest targets indicates that the SNr contains segregated subpopulations that differentially project to functionally distinct brain stem regions. These subpopulations are electrophysiologically specialized and topographically organized and collateralize to common diencephalon targets, including the motor and intralaminar thalamus as well as the pedunculopontine nucleus and the midbrain reticular formation. These findings establish that SNr signaling is organized as dense, parallel outputs to specific brain stem targets concurrent with extensive collateral branches that encompass the majority of SNr axonal boutons.