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The mesopontine rostromedial tegmental nucleus: a structure targeted by the lateral habenula that projects to the ventral tegmental area of Tsai and substantia nigra compacta

Jhou TC1, Geisler S, Marinelli M, Degarmo BA, Zahm DS

Prior studies revealed that aversive stimuli and psychostimulant drugs elicit Fos expression in neurons clustered above and behind the interpeduncular nucleus that project strongly to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra (SN) compacta (C). Other reports suggest that these neurons modulate responses to aversive stimuli. We now designate the region containing them as the “mesopontine rostromedial tegmental nucleus” (RMTg) and report herein on its neuroanatomy. Dense micro-opioid receptor and somatostatin immunoreactivity characterize the RMTg, as do neurons projecting to the VTA/SNC that are enriched in GAD67 mRNA. Strong inputs to the RMTg arise in the lateral habenula (LHb) and, to a lesser extent, the SN. Other inputs come from the frontal cortex, ventral striatopallidum, extended amygdala, septum, preoptic region, lateral, paraventricular and posterior hypothalamus, zona incerta, periaqueductal gray, intermediate layers of the contralateral superior colliculus, dorsal raphe, mesencephalic, pontine and medullary reticular formation, and the following nuclei: parafascicular, supramammillary, mammillary, ventral lateral geniculate, deep mesencephalic, red, pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental, cuneiform, parabrachial, and deep cerebellar. The RMTg has meager outputs to the forebrain, mainly to the ventral pallidum, preoptic-lateral hypothalamic continuum, and midline-intralaminar thalamus, but much heavier outputs to the brainstem, including, most prominently, the VTA/SNC, as noted above, and to medial tegmentum, pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei, dorsal raphe, and locus ceruleus and subceruleus. The RMTg may integrate multiple forebrain and brainstem inputs in relation to a dominant LHb input. Its outputs to neuromodulatory projection systems likely converge with direct LHb projections to those structures.