Emotions, stress, hunger, and circadian rhythms all promote wakefulness and behavioral arousal. Little is known about the pathways mediating these influences, but the orexin-producing neurons of the hypothalamus may play an essential role. These cells heavily innervate many wake-promoting brain regions, and mice lacking the orexin neurons have narcolepsy and fail to rouse in response to hunger (Yamanaka et al.  Neuron 38:701-713). To identify the afferents to the orexin neurons, we first injected a retrograde tracer into the orexin neuron field of rats. Retrogradely labeled neurons were abundant in the allocortex, claustrum, lateral septum, bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and in many hypothalamic regions including the preoptic area, dorsomedial nucleus, lateral hypothalamus, and posterior hypothalamus. Retrograde labeling in the brainstem was generally more modest, but labeling was strong in the periaqueductal gray matter, dorsal raphe nucleus, and lateral parabrachial nucleus. Injection of an anterograde tracer confirmed that most of these regions directly innervate the orexin neurons, with some of the heaviest input coming from the lateral septum, preoptic area, and posterior hypothalamus. In addition, hypothalamic regions preferentially innervate orexin neurons in the medial and perifornical parts of the field, but most projections from the brainstem target the lateral part of the field. Inputs from the suprachiasmatic nucleus are mainly relayed via the subparaventricular zone and dorsomedial nucleus. These observations suggest that the orexin neurons may integrate a variety of interoceptive and homeostatic signals to increase behavioral arousal in response to hunger, stress, circadian signals, and autonomic challenges.
Copyright 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.