Evidence for a specialized role of the locus coeruleus noradrenergic system in cortical circuitries and behavioral operations

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The brainstem nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) innervates the entire central nervous system and is the primary source of norepinephrine (NE) to the neocortex. While classically considered a homogenous modulator of forebrain activity by virtue of highly widespread and divergent axons, recent behavioral and pharmacological evidence suggest this nucleus may execute distinct operations within functionally distinct terminal fields. Summarized in this review are the anatomical and physiological properties of the nucleus within a historical context that led to the interpretation of the nucleus as a homogeneous entity with uniform and simultaneous actions throughout its terminal fields. Also included are findings from several laboratories which point to a more nuanced model of LC/NE function that parallels that seen in other forebrain-projecting monoaminergic nuclei. Such compartmentalized models of the nucleus promote the idea that specific LC circuits are involved in discrete behavioral operations, and therefore, by identifying the networks that are engaged by LC, the substrates for these behaviors can be identified and manipulated. Perturbations in the functional anatomy and physiology of this system may be related to neuropsychiatric conditions associated with dysregulation of the LC-noradrenergic system such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Recent findings regarding the organization and operation of the LC/NE system collectively challenge the classical view of the nucleus as a relatively homogenous modulator of forebrain activity and provide the basis for a renewed scientific interest in this region of the brain. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Noradrenergic System.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)197-206
Number of pages10
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Jun 15 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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