Organization of brain somatomotor-sympathetic circuits

IA Kerman
Experimental Brain Research. 2008; 187(1):1-16.


Numerous physiological and emotionally motivated behaviors require concomitant activation of somatomotor and sympathetic efferents. Likewise, adaptive and maladaptive responses to stress are often characterized by simultaneous recruitment of these efferent systems. This review describes recent literature that outlines the organization of somatomotor-sympathetic circuitry in the rat. These circuits were delineated by employing recombinant pseudorabies (PRV) viral vectors as retrograde trans-synaptic tract tracers. In these studies PRV-152, a strain that expresses enhanced green fluorescent protein, was injected into sympathectomized hindlimb muscle, while PRV-BaBlu, which expresses beta-galactosidase, was injected into the adrenal gland in the same animals. Immunofluorescent methods were then used to determine the presence of putative dual-function neurons that were infected with both viral strains. These somatomotor-sympathetic neurons (SMSNs) were detected in a number of brain regions. However, the most prominent nodes in this circuitry included the paraventricular, dorsomedial, and lateral nuclei of the hypothalamus, ventrolateral periaqueductal grey and ventromedial medulla. Phenotypic studies revealed subsets of SMSNs to be capable of synthesizing serotonin, or to contain neuroactive peptides vasopressin, oxytocin, orexins, or melanin-concentrating hormone. Based on these data and the results of studies employing monosynaptic tracers a central somatomotor-sympathetic circuit is proposed. This circuitry is likely recruited in diverse situations, including stress responses, cold defense, exercise and sleep. Furthermore, activation of specific classes of SMSNs likely shapes distinct stress-coping strategies. Dysregulation in the organization and function of this circuit may also contribute to the expression of physical symptoms of affective disorders, such as major depression, anxiety and panic.