The cholinergic innervation of the compact and reticular parts of the substantia nigra in the rat was investigated by use of highly sensitive retrograde and anterograde tract-tracing methods in combination with choline acetyltransferase immunohistochemistry. The fluorescent tracers True Blue, propidium iodide, or fluorogold were infused preferentially into either nigral subnucleus. Cells positive for choline acetyltransferase and retrograde tracer were found in both the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei, although considerably more double-labeled somata were observed in the former than in the latter component of the pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic complex. Approximately 2-3 times more cholinergic cells were labeled in the peduculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei when tracer injections were centered in the compact nigral subdivision than when infusions of about the same size were confined totally to the reticular part. Infusions of the anterogradely transported tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin into the pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic complex resulted in uptake and transport of that label to both nigral subnuclei, and some of the Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin-accumulating somata and proximal processes also demonstrated choline acetyltransferase-like immunoreactivity. The Phaseolus vulgaris agglutinin-labeled entities in the substantia nigra exhibited terminal-like profiles that were reminiscent of the pattern of nigral choline acetyltransferase-positive puncta demonstrated immunohistochemically by use of nickel ammonium sulfate enhancement of the final reaction product in the avidin-biotin procedure. These observations strongly support the contention that the pontomesencephalotegmental cholinergic complex is the major source of cholinergic projections to both the compact and reticular portions of the rat substantia nigra.
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