Organization of connections between the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and lateral hypothalamus: a single and double retrograde tracing study in rats

Brain Struct Funct. 2016 Jul;221(6):2937-62. doi: 10.1007/s00429-015-1081-0. Epub 2015 Jul 14.


The amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are highly interconnected telencephalic areas critical for cognitive processes, including associative learning and decision making. Both structures strongly innervate the lateral hypothalamus (LHA), an important component of the networks underlying the control of feeding and other motivated behaviors. The amygdala-prefrontal-lateral hypothalamic system is therefore well positioned to exert cognitive control over behavior. However, the organization of this system is not well defined, particularly the topography of specific circuitries between distinct cell groups within these complex, heterogeneous regions. This study used two retrograde tracers to map the connections from the amygdala (central and basolateral area nuclei) and mPFC to the LHA in detail, and to determine whether amygdalar pathways to the mPFC and to LHA originate from the same or different neurons. One tracer was placed into a distinct mPFC area (dorsal anterior cingulate, prelimbic, infralimbic, or rostromedial orbital), and the other into dorsal or ventral LHA. We report that the central nucleus and basolateral area of the amygdala send projections to distinct LHA regions, dorsal and ventral, respectively. The basolateral area, but not central nucleus, also sends substantial projections to the mPFC, topographically organized rostrocaudal to dorsoventral. The entire mPFC, in turn, projects to the LHA, providing a separate route for potential amygdalar influence following mPFC processing. Nearly all amygdalar projections to the mPFC and to the LHA originated from different neurons suggesting amygdala and amygdala-mPFC processing influence the LHA independently, and the balance of these parallel pathways ultimately controls motivated behaviors.

Keywords: Amygdala; Behavior; Feeding; Hypothalamus; Motivation; Prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Hypothalamic Area, Lateral / cytology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neuroanatomical Tract-Tracing Techniques
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans