The Neurons of the Substantia Nigra and Zona Incerta Which Project to the Cat Superior Colliculus Are GABA Immunoreactive: A Double-Label Study Using GABA Immunocytochemistry and Lectin Retrograde Transport

Neuroscience. 1989;29(3):567-81. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(89)90131-0.


The neurotransmitter cytochemistry of neurons in the substantia nigra and zona incerta which project to the cat superior colliculus was examined. Neurons in both structures were double-labeled with an antibody to the transmitter GABA and a retrograde tracer, [3H]n-acetylated wheat germ agglutinin, injected into the superior colliculus. All cells in the zona incerta and substantia nigra which projected to the superior colliculus were labeled by the GABA antiserum. Most other neurons within the zona incerta and virtually all within the substantia nigra pars reticulata and pars lateralis were also labeled by the GABA antibody. By contrast, neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta were not labeled by either the GABA antibody or wheat germ agglutinin. Nigrotectal cells in the substantia nigra were of medium to large size and most had stellate-shaped cell bodies. Zona incerta cells projecting to the superior colliculus were also of medium to large size, but most had horizontal fusiform cell bodies. This study demonstrates two new findings: (1) that all nigrotectal neurons in cat are immunoreactive to a GABA antibody and probably contain the neurotransmitter GABA; and (2) that these GABA immunoreactive neurons in cat are found not only in the substantia nigra pars reticulata but also within the pars lateralis. Zona incerta cells projecting to the superior colliculus have a different morphology but are also apparently GABAergic. These data provide an anatomical substrate for the known inhibitory action of the nigrotectal pathway on superior colliculus neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Diencephalon / cytology*
  • Diencephalon / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism
  • Superior Colliculi / cytology*
  • Superior Colliculi / metabolism
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid