The periaqueductal gray (PAG) is known to be essential for vocalization and reproductive behavior. The PAG controls components of these behaviors by means of projections to the nucleus retroambiguus (NRA), a group of premotor neurons in the caudal medulla oblongata. In the accompanying study (VanderHorst et al., 2000 [accompanying study]), the NRA and its lumbosacral projections have been identified in the rhesus monkey. The present light and electron microscopical tracing study describes the PAG-NRA pathway in primates. To locate midbrain neurons projecting to the NRA, wheat germ agglutinin horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) was injected into the NRA in six monkeys. To determine the distribution pattern of PAG axons in the medulla oblongata, WGA-HRP was injected into the PAG and adjacent tegmentum in three additional monkeys. In one of these three monkeys, biotinylated dextran amine and cholera toxin subunit b were injected into the lumbosacral cord to retrogradely identify NRA neurons. The results show that a compact group of neurons in the medial part of the lateral PAG at the intercollicular level sends a dense projection to the NRA. The projection is bilateral with a clear ipsilateral predominance. At the ultrastructural level, there are monosynaptic contacts between PAG fibers and NRA neurons, including NRA neurons that project to the lumbosacral cord. The synaptic contacts were primarily asymmetrical and the labeled terminal profiles contained spherical and dense core vesicles. It is concluded that there exists a strong and direct PAG-NRA pathway in the rhesus monkey. Because NRA neurons projecting to the lower lumbar cord are included, the PAG-NRA projection is likely to be involved not only in vocalization but also in other behaviors, such as receptive posture.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.