The projections of locus coeruleus neurons to the spinal cord

Prog Brain Res. 1991;88:123-41. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6123(08)63803-0.


Spinally projecting noradrenergic neurons located in the locus coeruleus/subcoeruleus (LC/SC) are a major source of the noradrenergic innervation of the spinal cord. However, the specific terminations of these neurons have not been clearly defined. The purpose of this chapter is to describe the results of experiments that used the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin in combination with dopamine-beta-hydroxylase immunocytochemistry to more precisely determine the spinal cord terminations of neurons located in the LC/SC. The results of these experiments indicate that the axons of LC neurons are located primarily in the ipsilateral ventral funiculus and terminate most heavily in the medial part of laminae VII and VIII, the motoneuron pool of lamina IX, and lamina X. LC neurons provide a moderately dense innervation of the ventral part of the dorsal horn, but only a very sparse innervation of the superficial dorsal horn. The SC projects ipsilaterally in the ventrolateral funiculus and terminates diffusely in the intermediate and ventral laminae of the spinal cord. Finally, the results of preliminary experiments indicate that different rat substrains may have LC neurons that exhibit qualitatively different termination patterns in the spinal cord. More specifically, LC neurons in some rat substrains innervate the dorsal horn, while those in other substrains primarily innervate the ventral horn and intermediate zone.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cats
  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase / analysis
  • Efferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Locus Coeruleus / anatomy & histology*
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology


  • Dopamine beta-Hydroxylase