Differential projections from the lateral habenula to the rostromedial tegmental nucleus and ventral tegmental area in the rat

J Comp Neurol. 2012 Apr 15;520(6):1278-300. doi: 10.1002/cne.22787.


The mesopontine rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg) is a mostly γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic structure believed to be a node for signaling aversive events to dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The RMTg receives glutamatergic inputs from the lateral habenula (LHb) and sends substantial GABAergic projections to the VTA, which also receives direct projections from the LHb. To further specify the topography of LHb projections to the RMTg and VTA, small focal injections of the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin were aimed at different subdivisions of the LHb. The subnuclear origin of LHb inputs to the VTA and RMTg was then confirmed by injections of the retrograde tracer cholera toxin subunit b into the VTA or RMTg. Furthermore, we compared the topographic position of retrogradely labeled neurons in the RMTg resulting from VTA injections with that of anterogradely labeled axons emerging from the LHb. As revealed by anterograde and retrograde tracing, LHb projections were organized in a strikingly topographic manner, with inputs to the RMTg mostly arising from the lateral division of the LHb (LHbL), whereas inputs to the VTA mainly emerged from the medial division of the LHb (LHbM). In the RMTg, profusely branched LHb axons were found in close register with VTA projecting neurons and were frequently apposed to the latter. Overall, our findings demonstrate that LHb inputs to the RMTg and VTA arise from different divisions of the LHb and provide direct evidence for a disynaptic pathway that links the LHbL to the VTA via the RMTg.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cholera Toxin / metabolism
  • Habenula / cytology*
  • Habenula / physiology
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Phytohemagglutinins / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / cytology*
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / cytology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • leukoagglutinins, plants
  • Cholera Toxin