Three-dimensional chemoarchitecture of the basal forebrain: spatially specific association of cholinergic and calcium binding protein-containing neurons

Neuroscience. 2005;136(3):697-713. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.05.019.


The basal forebrain refers to heterogeneous structures located close to the medial and ventral surfaces of the cerebral hemispheres. It contains diverse populations of neurons, including the cholinergic cortically projecting cells that show severe loss in Alzheimer's and related neurodegenerative diseases. The basal forebrain does not display any cytoarchitectural or other structural features that make it easy to demarcate functional boundaries, a problem that allowed different investigators to propose different organizational schemes. The present paper uses novel three-dimensional reconstructions and numerical analyses for studying the spatial organization of four major basal forebrain cell populations, the cholinergic, parvalbumin, calbindin and calretinin containing neurons in the rat. Our analyses suggest that the distribution of these four cell populations is not random but displays a general pattern of association. Within the cholinergic space (i.e. the volume occupied by the cortically projecting cholinergic cell bodies) the three other cell types form twisted bands along the longitudinal axis of a central dense core of cholinergic cells traversing the traditionally defined basal forebrain regions, (i.e. the medial septum, diagonal bands, the substantia innominata, pallidal regions and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis). At a smaller scale, the different cell types within the cholinergic space occupy overlapping high-density cell clusters that are either chemically uniform or mixed. However, the cell composition of these high-density clusters is regionally specific. The proposed scheme of basal forebrain organization, using cell density or density relations as criteria, offers a new perspective on structure-function relationship, unconstrained by traditional region boundaries.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cell Count / methods
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Prosencephalon / cytology*
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reproducibility of Results


  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Acetylcholine