Two specific groups of neurons in the dorsolateral pons are activated by dietary sodium deprivation. These two groups are the pre-locus coeruleus (pre-LC) and the inner subdivision of the external lateral parabrachial nucleus (PBel-inner). In each site, after rats are fed an extremely low-sodium diet for over a week, neurons increase their expression of an activity-induced transcription factor, c-Fos. Here, we confirm this observation and extend it by demonstrating that these two groups of neurons express a common marker gene, the constitutively-expressed transcription factor Forkhead box protein 2 (FoxP2). That is, virtually all of the c-Fos activated neurons in both regions also express FoxP2. The expression of FoxP2 by both these groups of neurons suggests that they are developmentally-related subsets derived from the same basic population. Given that FoxP2, unlike c-Fos, is expressed independent of sodium deprivation, this marker may be useful in future studies of the pre-LC and PBel-inner. The molecular definition of these neurons, which project to circuits in the forebrain that influence visceral, appetitive, and hedonic functions, may allow direct experimental exploration of the functional role of these circuits using genetic tools.
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