A direct projection from superior colliculus to substantia nigra for detecting salient visual events

Nat Neurosci. 2003 Sep;6(9):974-80. doi: 10.1038/nn1113.


Midbrain dopaminergic neurons respond to unexpected and biologically salient events, but little is known about the sensory systems underlying this response. Here we describe, in the rat, a direct projection from a primary visual structure, the midbrain superior colliculus (SC), to the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) where direct synaptic contacts are made with both dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic neurons. Complementary electrophysiological data reveal that short-latency visual responses in the SNc are abolished by ipsilateral lesions of the SC and increased by local collicular stimulation. These results show that the tectonigral projection is ideally located to relay short-latency visual information to dopamine-containing regions of the ventral midbrain. We conclude that it is within this afferent sensory circuitry that the critical perceptual discriminations that identify stimuli as both unpredicted and biologically salient are made.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology*
  • Substantia Nigra / ultrastructure
  • Superior Colliculi / drug effects
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / ultrastructure
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Visual Pathways / drug effects
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / ultrastructure
  • Visual Perception / drug effects
  • Visual Perception / physiology*