A quantitative study of brainstem projections from lamina I neurons in the cervical and lumbar enlargement of the rat
This study used the retrograde transport of a protein-gold complex to examine the distribution of spinal cord and trigeminal nucleus caudalis neurons that project to the nucleus of the solitary tract (NST) in the rat. In the spinal grey matter, retrogradely labeled cells were common in the marginal zone (lamina I), in the lateral spinal nucleus of the dorsolateral funiculus, in the reticular part of the neck of the dorsal horn (lamina V), around the central canal (lamina X), and in the region of the thoracic and sacral autonomic cell columns. The pattern of labeling closely resembled that seen for the cells at the origin of the spinomesencephalic tract and shared some features with that of the spinoreticular and spinothalamic tracts. Labeled cells in lamina IV of the dorsal horn were only observed when injections spread dorsally, into the dorsal column nuclei, and are thus not considered to be at the origin of the spinosolitary tract. They are probably neurons of the postsynaptic fibers of the dorsal column. Retrogradely labeled cells were also numerous in the superficial laminae of the trigeminal nucleus caudalis, through its rostrocaudal extent. The pattern of marginal cell labeling appeared to be continuous with that of labeled neurons in the paratrigeminal nucleus, located in the descending tract of trigeminal nerve. Since the NST is an important relay for visceral afferents from both the glossopharyngeal and vagus nerves, we suggest that the spinal and trigeminal neurons that project to the NST may be part of a larger system that integrates somatic and visceral afferent inputs from wide areas of the body. The projections may underlie somatovisceral and/or viscerovisceral reflexes, perhaps with a significant afferent nociceptive component.