Reciprocal connections between the zona incerta and the pretectum and superior colliculus of the cat
The goal of the present experiments was to examine the relationships of the zona incerta with two structures associated with visuomotor behavior, the superior colliculus and pretectum. The experiments were carried out in the cat, a species commonly used in studies of visuomotor integration, and utilized wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase and biocytin as retrograde and anterograde neuronal tracers. Retrograde axonal transport demonstrated that most cells in the ventral subdivision of the zona incerta project to the superior colliculus. Anterograde tracers demonstrated that the incertotectal terminal field is most dense in the intermediate gray layer, which is the primary source of the descending pathway from the superior colliculus to brainstem gaze centers. Further experiments showed that scattered cells within the intermediate gray layer give rise to a reciprocal pathway that terminates in both the dorsal and ventral subdivisions of the zona incerta. The distribution of both labeled incertotectal cells and tectoincertal terminals extends dorsolateral to the zona incerta proper, between the reticular thalamic nucleus and the external medullary lamina. Electron microscopic examination of labeled tectoincertal terminals demonstrated that they contain mainly spherical vesicles and have slightly asymmetric to symmetric synaptic densities. Labeled terminals were observed contacting labeled cells in the zona incerta, suggesting that the reciprocal pathway may be monosynaptic. The zona incerta is also reciprocally interconnected with the pretectum. The anterior pretectal nucleus provides a dense projection to the ventral part of the zona incerta and receives a sparse reciprocal projection. The posterior pretectal nucleus and nucleus of the optic tract may also project to the zona incerta. The pretectoincertal fibers form terminals that contain primarily spherical vesicles and make distinctly asymmetric synaptic contacts. In summary, these results indicate that the deep layers of the superior colliculus, which are important for controlling saccades, are the target of a projection from the ventral subdivision of the zona incerta. Like the substantia nigra, the zona incerta may play a permissive role in the tectal initiation of saccadic eye movements. The incertotectal terminal field in the cat is less dense than that observed previously in the rat, suggesting species differences in the development of this pathway. An additional finding of this study is that one of the main sources of input to these incertotectal cells is the anterior pretectal nucleus. This pretectal-incertal-tectal pathway is likely to play a role in the guidance of tectally initiated saccades by somatosensory stimuli.
May, PJ; Sun, W; Hall, WC
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