The intra-cortical trajectory of the coeruleo-cortical projection in the rat: A tangentially organized cortical afferent

John Morrison, M. E. Molliver, R. Grzanna, J. T. Coyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Cortical and sub-cortical lesions in the rat were used to analyze the intracortical trajectory of the noradrenergic axons, which were visualized by aldehyde-induced catecholamine histofluorescence and by immunohistochemistry using an antibody directed against rat dopamine-β-hydroxylase. Following subcortical lesions there is a slowly progressive reduction in the density of cortical noradrenergic axons, indicating that they undergo asynchronous anterograde degeneration. By 2 weeks after transection of the dorsal noradrenergic bundle, no dopamine β-hydroxylase-immunoreactive fibers are detectable in the ipsilateral cortex. Neither transection of the cingulum bundle, nor parasagittal incisions through the dorsal cortex lateral to the cingulum, diminished the noradrenergic innervation of medial or dorso-lateral cortex. A cortical lesion medial to the cingulum bundle markedly reduced the density of noradrenergic fibers in cingulate cortex caudal to the lesion, but did not affect the innervation of dorso-lateral cortex. In contrast, dorso-lateral frontal incisions and decortication (frontal lobotomy) produced a marked ipsilateral decrease in the noradrenergic fiber density throughout the remaining dorso-lateral cortex, while sparing the innervation of cingulate and infra-rhinal cortex. These results demonstrate that the dorso-lateral cortex is innervated by noradrenergic fibers in the medial forebrain bundle that reach the frontal pole, turn dorsally over the anterior portion of the forceps minor and continue caudally within the deep layers of frontal and dorso-lateral cortex, supplying the noradrenergic innervation throughout their trajectory. The medial cortex is innervated by a separate group of noradrenergic fibers that ascend through the septum, curve over the genu of the corpus callosum, and run caudally in the supracallosal stria. The present results show that the cingulum bundle is not a major intra-cortical noradrenergic pathway and does not provide branches that contribute significantly to the innervation of dorsal or lateral cortex. Thus the medial and lateral cortex can be selectively and differentially denervated of noradrenergic fibers and a coarse topographic order exists in the noradrenergic innervation of cortex. Since noradrenergic fibers travel long distances within the cortical grey matter, a small lesion of frontal cortex can have far-reaching effects on the innervation of distant, more caudal regions of cortex. The coeruleocortical projection has properties that differ from those of the best characterized cortical afferents and may be a useful model for the study of other ascending monoamine systems. The tangential, intracortical trajectory of the noradrenergic fibers would confer upon the coeruleo-cortical system the capacity to modulate neuronal activity simultaneously through a vast expanse of neocortex. A formulation of cortical organization is presented which integrates the tangential organization of the coeruleo-cortical projection with the concept of columnar organization of cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1981
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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