Trigeminal primary afferent projections to “non‐trigeminal” areas of the rat central nervous system

Carl F. Marfurt, Donna M. Rajchert

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The central projections of rat trigeminal primary afferent neurons to various 'non-trigeminal' areas of the central nervous system were examined by labeling the fibers with wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase (WGA-HRP) transported anterogradely from the trigeminal ganglion. This technique produced a clear and comprehensive picture of trigeminal primary afferent connectivity that was in many ways superior to that which may be obtained by using degeneration, autoradiography, cobalt labeling, or HRP transganglionic transport techniques. Strong terminal labeling was observed in all four rostrocaudal subdivisions of the trigeminal brainstem nuclear complex, as well as in the dorsal horn of the cervical spinal cord bilaterally, numerous brainstem nuclei, and in the cerebellum. Labeling in the ipsilateral dorsal horn of the cervical spinal cord was very dense at C1, moderately dense at C2 and C3, and sparse at C4-C7. Numerous fibers crossed the midline in the medulla and upper cervical spinal cord and terminated in the contralateral pars caudalis and dorsal horn of the spinal cord from C1-C5. The latter axons terminated most heavily in the mandibular and ophthalmic regions of the contralateral side. Extremely dense terminal labeling was observed in the ipsilateral paratrigeminal nucleus and the nucleus of the solitary tract, moderate labeling was seen in the supratrigeminal nucleus and in the dorsal reticular formation, and small numbers of fibers were observed in the cuneate, trigeminal motor, lateral and superior vestibular nuclei, and in the cerebellum. The latter fibers entered the cerebellum in the superior cerebellar peduncle and projected to the posterior and anterior lobes as well as to the interposed and lateral deep cerebellar nuclei. Most projections in this study originated from fibers in the dorsal part of the spinal tract of V, suggesting a predominantly mandibular origin for these fibers. Projections from the ophthalmic and maxillary divisions, in contrast, were directed mainly to the cervical spinal cord bilaterally, to contralateral pars caudalis, and to certain areas of the reticular formation. In conclusion, this study has demonstrated that somatosensory information from the head and face may be transmitted directly to widespread and functionally heterogeneous areas of the rat central nervous system, including the spinal cord dorsal horn, numerous brainstem nuclei, and the cerebellum. These projections may play important roles in trigeminospinal reflexes (dorsal horn of spinal cord C1-C7), fusion of the sensory maps of the right and left sides of the head (contralateral projections), trigeminovisceral integration (paratrigeminal and solitary), control and integration of oral motor behavior (supratrigeminal and motor V), orofacial reflexes (reticular formation), and the coordination and stabilization of head posture and gaze (cuneate, vestibular, and cerebellum).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)489-511
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 15 1991


  • somatosensory systems
  • trigeminal ganglion
  • Trigeminal nerve
  • wheat germ agglutinin-horseradish peroxidase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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