Numerous motivated behaviors require simultaneous activation of somatomotor and autonomic functions. We have previously characterized the organization of brain circuits that may mediate this integration. Presympathetic premotor neurons (PSPMNs) that are part of such circuits are distributed across multiple brain regions, which mediate stress-elicited behavioral and physiological responses, including the Edinger-Westphal nucleus (EW). Based on its connectivity and function, EW has recently been re-classified into a preganglionic (EWpg) and a centrally projecting (EWcp) population. Neurons within EWcp are the major source of urocortin 1 (Ucn-1), an analog of the corticotropin-releasing factor that binds the CRFR1 and CRFR2 receptors and has been implicated in mediating homeostatic responses to stress. We hypothesized that a subset of EWcp PSPMNs expresses Ucn-1. Utilizing dual-label immunofluorescence, we initially mapped the distribution of Ucn-1 and cholinergic neurons within EW in colchicine pre-treated rats. Based on this labeling we divided EWcp into three neuroanatomical levels. To examine connections of EWcp neurons to the gastrocnemius muscle and the adrenal gland, we next employed trans-synaptic tract-tracing in a second group of rats, utilizing two pseudorabies virus (PRV) recombinants that express unique reporter proteins. Using multi-label immunofluorescent staining, we identified the presence of Ucn-1-positive PSPMNs, dually labeled with PRV and present throughout the entire extent of EWcp and intermingled with Ucn-1 neurons infected with one or neither of the viral recombinants. Compared to rats pretreated with colchicine, we observed significantly fewer Ucn-1 neurons in animals that received PRV injections. Post hoc analyses revealed significantly fewer Ucn-1 neurons at the rostral level as compared to the caudal and middle levels. These data suggest functional and anatomic heterogeneity within EWcp; this organization may coordinate various aspects of stress-elicited and emotionally salient behaviors.
- Adrenal gland
- Pseudorabies virus
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience