The primate thalamus is a key target for brain dopamine

J Neurosci. 2005 Jun 29;25(26):6076-83. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0968-05.2005.


The thalamus relays information to the cerebral cortex from subcortical centers or other cortices; in addition, it projects to the striatum and amygdala. The thalamic relay function is subject to modulation, so the flow of information to the target regions may change depending on behavioral demands. Modulation of thalamic relay by dopamine is not currently acknowledged, perhaps because dopamine innervation is reportedly scant in the rodent thalamus. We show that dopaminergic axons profusely target the human and macaque monkey thalamus using immunolabeling with three markers of the dopaminergic phenotype (tyrosine hydroxylase, dopamine, and the dopamine transporter). The dopamine innervation is especially prominent in specific association, limbic, and motor thalamic nuclei, where the densities of dopaminergic axons are as high as or higher than in the cortical area with the densest dopamine innervation. We also identified the dopaminergic neurons projecting to the macaque thalamus using retrograde tract-tracing combined with immunohistochemistry. The origin of thalamic dopamine is multiple, and thus more complex, than in any other dopaminergic system defined to date: dopaminergic neurons of the hypothalamus, periaqueductal gray matter, ventral mesencephalon, and the lateral parabrachial nucleus project bilaterally to the monkey thalamus. We propose a novel dopaminergic system that targets the primate thalamus and is independent from the previously defined nigrostriatal, mesocortical, and mesolimbic dopaminergic systems. Investigating this "thalamic dopaminergic system" should further our understanding of higher brain functions and conditions such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and drug addiction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Autopsy
  • Axons / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Thalamus / physiology*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine