Dopaminergic neurons exhibit a short-latency, phasic response to unexpected, biologically salient stimuli. The midbrain superior colliculus also is sensitive to such stimuli, exhibits sensory responses with latencies reliably less than those of dopaminergic neurons, and, in rat, has been shown to send direct projections to regions of the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area containing dopaminergic neurons (e.g. pars compacta). Recent electrophysiological and electrochemical evidence also suggests that tectonigral connections may be critical for relaying short-latency (<100 ms) visual information to midbrain dopaminergic neurons. By investigating the tectonigral projection in the cat, the present study sought to establish whether this pathway is a specialization of the rodent, or whether it may be a more general feature of mammalian neuroanatomy. Anterogradely and retrogradely transported anatomical tracers were injected into the superior colliculus and substantia nigra pars compacta, respectively, of adult cats. In the anterograde experiments, abundant fibers and terminals labeled with either biotinylated dextran amine or Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin were seen in close association with tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (dopaminergic) somata and processes in substantia nigra pars compacta and the ventral tegmental area. In the retrograde experiments, injections of biotinylated dextran amine into substantia nigra produced significant retrograde labeling of tectonigral neurons of origin in the intermediate and deep layers of the ipsilateral superior colliculus. Approximately half of these biotinylated dextran amine-labeled neurons were, in each case, shown to be immunopositive for the calcium binding proteins, parvalbumin or calbindin. Significantly, virtually no retrogradely labeled neurons were found either in the superficial layers of the superior colliculus or among the large tecto-reticulospinal output neurons. Taken in conjunction with recent data in the rat, the results of this study suggest that the tectonigral projection may be a common feature of mammalian midbrain architecture. As such, it may represent an additional route by which short-latency sensory information can influence basal ganglia function.