Axonal projections arising from the subthalamic nucleus (STN) in cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) were traced after labeling small pools (5-15 cells) of neurons with biotinylated dextran amine. Seventy-five single axons were reconstructed from serial sagittal sections with a camera lucida. Most of the STN labeled cells displayed five to eight long, sparsely spined dendrites that arborized mostly along the main axis of the nucleus. Based on their axonal targets, five distinct types of STN projection neurons have been identified: 1) neurons projecting to the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr), the internal (GPi) and external (GPe) segments of the globus pallidus (21.3%); 2) neurons targeting SNr and GPe (2. 7%); 3) neurons projecting to GPi and GPe (48%); 4) neurons targeting GPe only (10.7 %); and 5) neurons with axons that coursed toward the sriatum, but whose terminal arborization could not be visualized in detail (17.3%). Axons of the first two types bifurcated into rostral subthalamopallidal and caudal pallidonigral branches. However, the majority of STN axons had only a single branch that coursed rostrally toward the pallidum and striatum. These results reveal that, in contrast to current beliefs, the primate STN is not a monolithic entity. This nucleus harbors several subtypes of projection neurons, each endowed with a highly patterned set of collaterals. This organization allows STN neurons to exert a multifarious effect not only on the GPe, with which the STN is reciprocally connected, but also on the two major output structures of the basal ganglia, the SNr and the GPi.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.