The cholinergic innervation of rat cerebral cortex was studied by immunohistochemical localization of choline acetyltransferase. Stained bipolar cells, fibers and terminals were found in all areas of cortex. The density of cholinergic terminals was similar in all cortical areas with the exception of entorhinal and olfactory cortex, which showed a marked increase in the number of stained terminals. A laminar distribution of cholinergic terminals was found m many cortical areas. In motor and most sensory areas, terminal density was high in layer 1 and upper layer 5, and lowest in layer 4. Visual cortex, in contrast to other cortical areas, was characterized by a dense band of innervation in layer 4. It has been known that the majority of cortical cholinergic structures derive from a projection to cortex from large, multipolar neurons in the basal forebrain, which stain heavily for choline acetyltransferase. In this study, stained fibers were observed to take three different pathways from basal forebrain to cortex. The first, confined to medial aspects of forebrain and cortex, was observed to originate in the septal area, from where fibers formed a discrete bundle, swinging forward around the rostral end of the corpus callosum, then travelling caudally in the cingulate bundle. The second was found to consist of libers fanning out laterally from the area of the globus pallidus, travelling through the caudate, then continuing for various distances in the corpus callosum before finally turning into the cortex. A third pathway appeared to innervate olfactory and entorhinal cortex. Ibotenic acid injections were made in the area of the globus pallidus to study the effect of lesioning the lateral pathway on the cholinergic innervation in cortex. A major loss of choline acetyltransferase positive terminals was observed in neocortex. but retrosplenial, cingulate, entorhinal and olfactory cortex showed a normal density of cholinergic innervation. The borders separating areas with lesioned cholinergic input from non-lesioned areas were precise. The distribution of stained terminals remaining in cortical areas with lesioned basal forebrain innervation suggests that the basal forebrain projection to cerebral cortex, and not the intrinsic cortical cholinergic neurons, give rise to the laminar distribution of cholinergic terminals observed in normal cortex. To compare the relative densities of different cholinergic cortical systems, the distribution of choline acetyltransferase staining was compared with that of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and substance P. which are co-localized in some choline acetyltransferase-positive neurons innervating cortex.
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