The organization of serotonergic projections to cerebral cortex in primates: Retrograde transport studies

M. A. Wilson, M. E. Molliver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Retrograde axonal transport and immunocytochemical methods were utilized to determine the origin of serotonergic afferents to selected primary projection and association areas of cerebral cortex in macaque monkeys. After injections of Fast Blue or Diamidino Yellow in primary motor, somatosensory, or visual cortex, retrogradely labeled neurons are found in both the dorsal and median raphe nuclei. The sets of dorsal raphe neurons which innervate these cortical areas differ in their spatial distributions along the rostrocaudal axis of the brainstem; a coarse rostrocaudal topographic relationship is found between these groups of dorsal raphe neurons and their cortical targets. In contrast, neurons in the median raphe which innervate these primary projection areas are not differentially distributed along the rostrocaudal axis. However, in both the median and dorsal raphe nuclei, most neurons projecting to primary visual cortex are situated lateral to the cells which project to motor and somatosensory areas; many of these visually projecting neurons lie among the fascicles of the medial longitudinal fasciculus. For comparison with the serotonergic innervation of primary projection areas, the locations of raphe cells projecting to three areas of association cortex were examined: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, area 5 and area 7b. Neurons projecting to each of these association areas are found throughout the dorsal and median raphe nuclei. Their distributions are similar to one another; however, more cells projecting to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are in the rostral part of the dorsal raphe. The dorsal and median raphe neurons projecting to these association areas are intermingled with neurons projecting to motor and somatosensory cortex, but are medial to most of those projecting to visual cortex. Thus, separate cortical areas are innervated by different sets of raphe neurons; these sets partially overlap, yet differ in their rostrocaudal and mediolateral distributions. Ascending serotonergic projections to cerebral cortex form a widely distributed system which exhibits a highly intricate anatomic organization. The present observations support the hypothesis that the dorsal raphe nucleus is comprised of distinct sets of neurons whose output is distributed to multiple, interconnected cortical areas; these serotonergic projections may play a role in the coordination of excitability in functionally related areas of cortex. In contrast, the serotonergic projections arising from the median raphe appear to be more divergent and are likely to have a global influence on cortical activity. Since these individual raphe nuclei have different projection patterns, they are likely to have distinct functional roles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-570
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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