The nucleus incertus (NI) is a distinct cell group in caudoventral regions of the pontine periventricular gray, adjacent to the ventromedial border of the caudal dorsal tegmental nucleus. Recent interest in the NI stems from evidence that it represents one of the periventricular sites with the highest expression levels of mRNA encoding the type 1 corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) receptor, which has a high affinity for naturally occurring CRH, perhaps accounting for some of the extrapituitary actions of the peptide on autonomic and behavioral components of the stress response. However, almost nothing is known about NI function and hodological relationships. In this paper, we present the results of a systematic analysis of NI inputs and outputs using cholera toxin B subunit as a retrograde tracer and Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin as an anterograde tracer. Our retrograde tracer experiments indicate that the NI is in a strategic position to integrate information related to behavioral planning (from the prefrontal cortex), lateral habenular processing, hippocampal function, and oculomotor control. Based on its efferent connections, the NI is in a position to exert significant modulating influences on prefrontal and hippocampal cortical activity, and the nucleus is also in a position to influence brain sites known to control locomotor behavior, attentive states, and learning processes. Overall, the present results support the idea that the NI is a distinct region of the pontine periventricular gray, and together with the superior central (median raphé) and interpeduncular nuclei the NI appears to form a midline behavior control network of the brainstem.
Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.