Efferent projections of nucleus locus coeruleus: topographic organization of cells of origin demonstrated by three-dimensional reconstruction

Neuroscience. 1986 Jun;18(2):291-306. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(86)90155-7.


The present study examines the spatial distribution within rat locus coeruleus of neurons projecting to particular brain regions. In order to accurately recreate, in digital and pictorial formats, the spatial distribution of neurons for the entire nucleus locus coeruleus, three-dimensional reconstructions were created which specified the location of each individual Nissl-stained locus coeruleus cell in each of five nuclei. Dynamic computerized displays were visually analyzed and statistically compared. The nuclei from different brains were found to be strikingly similar in density and distribution of cells. In order to determine whether the cells of origin for particular locus coeruleus projections were clustered within the nucleus, reconstructions were created of the distributions of cells labeled by injections of a retrograde tracer, horseradish peroxidase, into particular terminal regions. Groups consisting of animals with injections into the same target areas were visually and statistically compared. The cells of origin of most efferent projections were found to be spatially organized within locus coeruleus. Specifically, projections to both the dorsal and ventral hippocampus originated solely from the dorsal segment of the nucleus, while spinal cord projections originated from ventral-posterior locus coeruleus. Cells of origin of cerebral and cerebellar cortical efferents, as well as hypothalamic efferents, exhibited less clustering, although reliable differences in distribution were observed. The most striking example of clustered cells of origin was exhibited by the large norepinephrine-containing cells constituting the anterior pole of locus coeruleus which were labeled only by hypothalamic injections. This analysis of spatial organization within locus coeruleus is unique in its utilization of a defined control group, experimental groups consisting of strictly defined replications, accurate three-dimensional reconstruction, and statistical comparisons. The demonstrated spatial heterogeneity of locus coeruleus neurons with respect to efferent projections can now be compared to the spatial distributions of other cellular characteristics such as soma morphology, colocalized transmitters and physiological properties. Presumably, such spatial segregation reflects the operation of functionally important organizing principles within the nucleus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hypothalamus / anatomy & histology
  • Locus Coeruleus / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology