A cytoarchitectonic and chemoarchitectonic analysis of the dopamine cell groups in the substantia nigra, ventral tegmental area, and retrorubral field in the mouse

Brain Struct Funct. 2012 Apr;217(2):591-612. doi: 10.1007/s00429-011-0349-2. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


The three main dopamine cell groups of the brain are located in the substantia nigra (A9), ventral tegmental area (A10), and retrorubral field (A8). Several subdivisions of these cell groups have been identified in rats and humans but have not been well described in mice, despite the increasing use of mice in neurodegenerative models designed to selectively damage A9 dopamine neurons. The aim of this study was to determine whether typical subdivisions of these dopamine cell groups are present in mice. The dopamine neuron groups were analysed in 15 adult C57BL/6J mice by anatomically localising tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), dopamine transporter protein (DAT), calbindin, and the G-protein-activated inward rectifier potassium channel 2 (GIRK2) proteins. Measurements of the labeling intensity, neuronal morphology, and the proportion of neurons double-labeled with TH, DAT, calbindin, or GIRK2 were used to differentiate subregions. Coronal maps were prepared and reconstructed in 3D. The A8 cell group had the largest dopamine neurons. Five subregions of A9 were identified: the reticular part with few dopamine neurons, the larger dorsal and smaller ventral dopamine tiers, and the medial and lateral parts of A9. The latter has groups containing some calbindin-immunoreactive dopamine neurons. The greatest diversity of dopamine cell types was identified in the seven subregions of A10. The main dopamine cell groups in the mouse brain are similar in terms of diversity to those observed in rats and humans. These findings are relevant to models using mice to analyse the selective vulnerability of different types of dopamine neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calbindins
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / cytology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Mesencephalon / cytology*
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G / metabolism
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / cytology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / metabolism*


  • Calbindins
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels
  • Kcnj6 protein, mouse
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein G
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine