Anatomical evidence for genetic differences in the innervation of the rat spinal cord by noradrenergic locus coeruleus neurons

Brain Res. 1992 Sep 18;591(1):44-53. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(92)90976-g.


Pontospinal noradrenergic neurons located in the A5, A6 (locus coeruleus, LC), and A7 cell groups are the major source of the noradrenergic innervation of the spinal cord. We have recently examined the specific terminations of these three cell groups in the spinal cord and found that the LC provides the major noradrenergic innervation of the ventral horn, while the A7 and A5 cell groups innervate the dorsal horn and intermediate zone, respectively. However, the results of similar experiments from another laboratory have shown that noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus primarily innervate the dorsal horn, while the A5 and A7 innervate the intermediate zone and the ventral horn. These conflicting results may be due to fundamental genetic differences between the rats used in our experiments (Sasco Sprague-Dawley) and those used by the other laboratory (Harlan Sprague-Dawley). This possibility was examined by determining the projections of coeruleospinal neurons in these two rat substrains using the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin. The results indicate that in Sasco rats the LC neurons project through the ipsilateral ventromedial funiculus and terminate almost exclusively in the medial part of laminae VII and VIII, the motoneuron pool of lamina IX, and lamina X. In contrast, LC neurons in Harlan rats project bilaterally through the superficial dorsal horn and the dorsolateral funiculus and terminate most heavily in dorsal horn laminae I-IV. In addition, the LC neurons of Sasco rats innervate cervical spinal cord segments more densely than lumbar spinal cord segments, while in Harlan rats the lumbar spinal cord is more densely innervated than the cervical spinal cord. These results indicate that the projections of coeruleospinal neurons in Sasco rats are fundamentally different from those in Harlan rats and suggest that noradrenergic LC neurons may have different physiological functions in these two rat substrains.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Injections
  • Locus Coeruleus / anatomy & histology
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Phytohemagglutinins / administration & dosage
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley / genetics
  • Species Specificity
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • leukoagglutinins, plants
  • Norepinephrine