Hypocretin1/OrexinA-containing axons innervate locus coeruleus neurons that project to the Rat medial prefrontal cortex. Implication in the sleep-wakefulness cycle and cortical activation

Synapse. 2011 Sep;65(9):843-57. doi: 10.1002/syn.20912. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


The Hypocretin1/OrexinA (Hcrt1/OxA) neuropeptides are found in a group of posterolateral hypothalamus neurons and are involved in sleep-wakefulness cycle regulation. Hcrt1/OxA neurons project widely to brainstem aminergic structures, such as the locus coeruleus (LC), which are involved in maintenance of wakefulness and EEG activation through intense projections to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Moreover, defects of the Hcrt1/OxA system are linked to narcolepsy, a disorder characterized by excessive diurnal hypersomnia and REM state disturbance. We aimed to determine whether Hcrt1/OxA neurons innervate LC neurons (noradrenergic and nonnoradrenergic) that project to the mPFC, thereby sustaining behavioral wakefulness. To assess this, we used retrograde tracing from mPFC injections and either Hcrt1/OxA or tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunohistochemical labeling in single sections of rat LC. The retrograde tracer Fluorogold (FG) was microinjected into mPFC and, at optimal survival periods, sections through the LC were processed for dual immunolabeling of anti-FG and either anti-Hcrt1/OxA or anti-TH antisera. Many LC neurons projecting to mPFC were nonnoradrenergic. Electron microscopy revealed a prominent localization of Hcrt1/OxA in unmyelinated axons and axon boutons (varicosities and axon terminals) within the LC. Hcrt1/OxA-immunoreactive axon boutons frequently apposed (104/1907) or made asymmetric excitatory-type synapses (60/1907) with FG-immunolabeled dendrites, indicating that Hcrt1/OxA can modulate the activity of LC neurons with cortical projections. Our results show that Hcrt1/OxA hypothalamic neurons likely excite LC neurons that project to the mPFC, and thus activate EEG and facilitate wakefulness. In narcoleptics, who are deficient in Hcrt1/OxA, impairment of this Hcrt1/OxA hypothalamic input to LC might contribute to the appearance of excessive daytime sleepiness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Cell Count
  • Electron Microscope Tomography
  • Functional Laterality
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Locus Coeruleus / cytology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism*
  • Orexins
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stilbamidines / metabolism
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / ultrastructure
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism


  • 2-hydroxy-4,4'-diamidinostilbene, methanesulfonate salt
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Orexins
  • Stilbamidines
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase