The primary goals of this study were to: 1) examine the distribution of neurons within the dorsal raphe (DR) nucleus that project to cortical and subcortical sites along the trigeminal somatosensory pathway in rat; 2) determine the extent to which different regions within this ascending sensory system receive collateral projections from the same DR neuron; and 3) identify the putative transmitters contained within these DR projection neurons. Long-Evans hooded rats received pressure injections of various combinations of retrograde fluorescent tracers; into the whisker-related regions of the primary somatosensory cortex (barrel field cortex [BC]), ventral posterior medial thalamus (VPM), and principal nucleus of the trigeminal complex (PrV). The distribution of retrogradely labeled neurons within the DR was examined by fluorescence microscopy. The major finding was that cortically projecting neurons were located within the midline regions of the rostral portion of the DR, whereas cells projecting to subcortical trigeminal somatosensory structures were distributed bilaterally in the lateral wing regions of the DR as well as in the midline portions of the nucleus. Single neurons that send axon collaterals to multiple cortical and subcortical trigeminal somatosensory targets were observed in the dorsomedian and ventromedian regions of the DR. DR neurons that projected to cortical and subcortical sites contained serotonin but not tyrosine hydroxylase, the marker enzyme for catecholamine transmitters. Taken together, these findings provide further evidence of neurochemical specificity and functional anatomical organization within the DR efferent projection system.
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