The projections of the ventral tegmental area and adjacent regions: a combined fluorescent retrograde tracer and immunofluorescence study in the rat

Brain Res Bull. 1982 Jul-Dec;9(1-6):321-53. doi: 10.1016/0361-9230(82)90145-9.


The organization of projection neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and in adjacent parts of the raphe nuclei medial to it (the central and rostral linear, and interfascicular nuclei), the mammillary body (the supramammillary region and the tuberomammillary nucleus), and the substantia nigra have been examined in the rat with Kuypers' retrograde double labeling method, and with a combined retrograde labeling (with true blue)-immunohistochemical method for the demonstration of dopaminergic neurons. First, the distribution, within the VTA and adjacent regions, of dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic cells that project to terminal fields in the telencephalon (nucleus accumbens, lateral septum, pre- and supragenual fields of the anterior limbic cortex, amygdala, dorsal hippocampus, and entorhinal area), in the diencephalon (lateral habenula), and in the brainstem (locus coeruleus, and parabrachial nucleus) was determined. Then, 15 different combinations of injections of the tracers bisbenzimide and true blue into different terminal fields were made to determine whether individual cells in the region of the VTA send collaterals to more than one site. Taken together, the results indicate that essentially separate groups of cells in the VTA and adjacent regions of the raphe project to each terminal field. In addition, each group can be further divided into dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic components, although the proportion of dopaminergic cells in each group can vary from over 80% (e.g., to the nucleus accumbens) to less than 1% (to the lateral habenula and to the locus coeruleus). In addition, it was found that the supramammillary region, which contains a dense extension of the A10 cell group in its medial part, and the tuberomammillary nucleus, project to, or through, most of the regions injected with retrograde tracers. Virtually all of the projections from the VTA and adjacent regions are partially crossed, the percentage of cells on the uninjected side ranging from over 40% (e.g., for locus coeruleus injections) to only about 2% (e.g., for amygdalar injections). Most of the groups of projection neurons in the region of the VTA are considerably intermixed with the exception of those that project to the lateral septum, to the lateral habenula, and to the hippocampal formation, which are concentrated in ventral and medial parts of the VTA, and in the raphe nuclei medial to the VTA. It was concluded that in the ventral part of the midbrain, essentially separate groups of aminergic and non-aminergic neurons in both the reticular formation (VTA) and in the adjacent nuclei of the raphe project bilaterally to a variety of similar terminal fields in the telencephalon, diencephalon, and brainstem. Further work at the single cell level is needed to determine whether these cell groups are differentially innervated by known inputs to the VTA and adjacent regions, most of which appear to descend through the medial forebrain bundle from sites in the limbic system and hypothalamus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Efferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique*
  • Limbic System / anatomy & histology
  • Locus Coeruleus / anatomy & histology
  • Mammillary Bodies / anatomy & histology
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Nucleus Accumbens / anatomy & histology
  • Periaqueductal Gray / anatomy & histology
  • Rats
  • Red Nucleus / anatomy & histology
  • Reticular Formation / anatomy & histology
  • Substantia Nigra / anatomy & histology
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / anatomy & histology*


  • Dopamine