Retrograde transport of a fluorescent dye was employed to study the projections from raphe nuclei to neocortex in the rat. The spatial distributions of labeled raphe cells were analyzed quantitatively to determine whether the nuclei are topographically organized with respect to different cortical targets. The dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), exclusive of the lateral wing regions, has a predominantly (3:1) ipsilateral projection with decreasing numbers of cells projecting to frontal, parietal, and occipital cortex. Overlapping cell groups within the DRN project differentially to these three cortical areas: DRN cells innervating frontal cortex extend more rostrally and laterally than those to either parietal or occipital cortex. The medium raphe and B9 projections are bilaterally symmetric, with equal cell numbers projecting to frontal, parietal, and occipital cortex. The rostro-caudal distributions of cells that project to disparate cortical areas differ in B9 but not in MR. The percentage of cortically projecting cells that are serotonergic is 80% for the DRN, 60% in the MR and 33% in the B9 cell group. The dorsal raphe nucleus and the B9 cell group are organized heterogeneously, and overlapping sets of neurons project differentially upon particular areas of neocortex. In contrast, the median raphe nucleus projects uniformly upon the neocortex and does not exhibit topographic organization. The three rostral raphe nuclei (DR, MR and B9) are each organized according to different rules with regard to their efferent projections to cortex. The differential organization of the raphe nuclei suggests that groups of cells within these three raphe nuclei are likely to innervate different combinations of cortical targets and thus to have different functional effects.
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