Sources of input to the rostromedial tegmental nucleus, ventral tegmental area, and lateral habenula compared: A study in rat

J Comp Neurol. 2015 Nov 1;523(16):2426-56. doi: 10.1002/cne.23797. Epub 2015 Jun 10.


Profound inhibitory control exerted on midbrain dopaminergic neurons by the lateral habenula (LHb), which has mainly excitatory outputs, is mediated by the GABAergic rostromedial tegmental nucleus (RMTg), which strongly innervates dopaminergic neurons in the ventral midbrain. Early reports indicated that the afferent connections of the RMTg, excepting its very strong LHb inputs, do not differ appreciably from those of the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Presumably, however, the RMTg contributes more to behavioral synthesis than to simply invert the valence of the excitatory signal coming from the LHb. Therefore, the present study was done to directly compare the inputs to the RMTg and VTA and, in deference to its substantial involvement with this circuitry, the LHb was also included in the comparison. Data indicated that, while the afferents of the RMTg, VTA, and LHb do originate within the same large pool of central nervous system (CNS) structures, each is also related to structures that project more strongly to it than to the others. The VTA gets robust input from ventral striatopallidum and extended amygdala, whereas RMTg biased inputs arise in structures with a more direct impact on motor function, such as deep layers of the contralateral superior colliculus, deep cerebellar and several brainstem nuclei, and, via a relay in the LHb, the entopeduncular nucleus. Input from the ventral pallidal-lateral preoptic-lateral hypothalamus continuum is strong in the RMTg and VTA and dominant in the LHb. Axon collateralization was also investigated, providing additional insights into the organization of the circuitry of this important triad of structures.

Keywords: inhibitory control; lateral habenula; rostromedial tegmental nucleus.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Habenula / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Photomicrography
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / anatomy & histology*