Anatomical substrates of orexin-dopamine interactions: lateral hypothalamic projections to the ventral tegmental area

Neuroscience. 2002;111(2):379-87. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(02)00017-9.


Dopaminergic projections to the forebrain arising from the mesencephalic ventral tegmentum modulate information processing in cortical and limbic sites. The lateral hypothalamus is crucial for the coordination of behavioral responses to interoceptive cues. The presence of a hypothalamic input to the ventral tegmental area has been known for some time, but the organization of this pathway has received little attention. Among the neuropeptides found in the hypothalamus are the orexins, which are selectively expressed in the lateral hypothalamus and adjacent perifornical area and are critically involved in homeostatic regulatory processes, including arousal and feeding. We examined the anatomical relationships between orexin and dopamine neurons in rats, with particular attention to characterizing the lateral hypothalamic projection to midbrain dopamine neurons. Iontophoretic deposits of the retrograde tracer FluoroGold into the ventral tegmental area revealed a large number of retrogradely-labeled cells that formed a band extending from the medial perifornical area arching dorsally over the fornix and then ventrolaterally into the lateral hypothalamus; approximately 20% of these cells expressed orexin A-like immunoreactivity. Moreover, axons that were anterogradely labeled from the lateral hypothalamus were seen throughout the ventral tegmental area, and were often in close proximity to the dendrites and somata of dopamine neurons. Dopamine and orexin fibers were found to codistribute in the medial prefrontal cortex; orexin fibers were present in lower density in the medial shell of the nucleus accumbens, and the central and posterior basolateral nuclei of the amygdala. We conclude that the lateral hypothalamic/perifornical projection represents an anatomical substrate by which interoceptive-related signals may influence forebrain dopamine function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / physiology*
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins*
  • Limbic System / physiology
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / physiology*
  • Orexins
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Orexins
  • Dopamine