GABAergic and other noncholinergic basal forebrain neurons, together with cholinergic neurons, project to the mesocortex and isocortex in the rat

J Comp Neurol. 1997 Jun 30;383(2):163-77.


The extrathalamic relay from the brainstem reticular formation to the cerebral cortex in the basal forebrain has been thought to be constituted predominantly, if not exclusively, by cholinergic neurons. In contrast, the septohippocampal projection has been shown to contain an important contingent of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic neurons. In the present study, we investigated whether GABAergic neurons also contribute to the projection from the basal forebrain to neocortical regions, including the mesocortex (limbic) and the isocortex in the rat. For this purpose, retrograde transport of cholera toxin (CT) was examined from the medial prefrontal cortex for the mesocortex and from the parietal cortex for the isocortex and was combined with dual-immunohistochemical staining for either choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) or glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) in adjacent series of sections. Retrogradely labelled GAD+ neurons were codistributed with retrogradely labelled ChAT+ neurons through the basal forebrain from both the prefrontal and the parietal cortex, suggesting parallel, widespread cortical projections. The GAD+ cortically projecting cells were similar in size to the ChAT+ cells, thereby indicating that they comprise a contingent of the magnocellular basal cell complex. The proportions of retrogradely labelled neurons that were GAD+ (approximately one-third) were equal to or greater than those that were ChAT+ from both the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex. In addition, the total of GAD+ and ChAT+ neurons did not account for the total number of cortically projecting cells, indicating that another equivalent proportion of chemically unidentified noncholinergic neurons also contributes to the basalocortical projection. Accordingly, as in the allocortex, GABAergic, cholinergic, and other unidentified noncholinergic neurons may have the capacity to modulate activity in the mesocortex (limbic) and the isocortex through parallel, widespread projections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / metabolism
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / cytology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / cytology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Prosencephalon / cytology
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase
  • Glutamate Decarboxylase