Prefrontal cortical projections to the midbrain in primates: evidence for a sparse connection

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2006 Aug;31(8):1627-36. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300990. Epub 2006 Jan 4.


Frontal cortical efferent fibers are thought to have important regulatory influence on cortico-basal ganglia (BG) circuits. The cortico-midbrain (substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area, SN/VTA) pathway has received particular attention in psychiatric diseases, most notably schizophrenia. Work in rodents demonstrates that the prefrontal cortico (PFC)-midbrain pathway plays a central role in regulating the firing pattern of dopamine (DA) neurons. These findings have led to some important hypotheses concerning PFC/BG interaction in schizophrenia. Descending PFC projections to the SN/VTA have been primarily documented in the rodent. The aim of this study was to determine the degree and organization of PFC afferents to these areas in the Macaque monkey. Anterograde tracer injections were made into discrete orbital, cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal areas. Projections were charted to the SN and VTA. Overall, there were very few fibers in the ventral midbrain following injections confined to specific areas of the PFC. To determine the relationship of the descending fibers to the midbrain DA neurons, sections were double stained for the tracer molecules and for tyrosine hydroxylase. In all cases, the prefrontal projections and the TH-positive cells did not appear to be in close juxtaposition. The results show a very limited projection from the PFC to the midbrain DA neurons in primates, terminating both within the SN proper as well as in the VTA. They arise from a broad region of the PFC, including the DLPF, cingulate, and orbital cortices. However, despite the relative lack of cortical input to the midbrain cells, these neurons are rich in glutamate receptors in primates. Thus, while, based on these anatomical studies, direct cortical control of DA neurons remains debatable in primates; the cortex may directly impact other sources of glutamatergic control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Macaca nemestrina
  • Mesencephalon / chemistry
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / chemistry
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / chemistry
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*