Forebrain dopamine neurons project down to a brainstem region controlling locomotion. Academic Article uri icon


  • The contribution of dopamine (DA) to locomotor control is traditionally attributed to ascending dopaminergic projections from the substantia nigra pars compacta and the ventral tegmental area to the basal ganglia, which in turn project down to the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR), a brainstem region controlling locomotion in vertebrates. However, a dopaminergic innervation of the pedunculopontine nucleus, considered part of the MLR, was recently identified in the monkey. The origin and role of this dopaminergic input are unknown. We addressed these questions in a basal vertebrate, the lamprey. Here we report a functional descending dopaminergic pathway from the posterior tuberculum (PT; homologous to the substantia nigra pars compacta and/or ventral tegmental area of mammals) to the MLR. By using triple labeling, we found that dopaminergic cells from the PT not only project an ascending pathway to the striatum, but send a descending projection to the MLR. In an isolated brain preparation, PT stimulation elicited excitatory synaptic inputs into patch-clamped MLR cells, accompanied by activity in reticulospinal cells. By using voltammetry coupled with electrophysiological recordings, we demonstrate that PT stimulation evoked DA release in the MLR, together with the activation of reticulospinal cells. In a semi-intact preparation, stimulation of the PT elicited reticulospinal activity together with locomotor movements. Microinjections of a D1 antagonist in the MLR decreased the locomotor output elicited by PT stimulation, whereas injection of DA had an opposite effect. It appears that this descending dopaminergic pathway has a modulatory role on MLR cells that are known to receive glutamatergic projections and promotes locomotor output.

publication date

  • August 20, 2013