The central adrenergic neurons have been suggested to play a role in the regulation of arousal and in the neuronal control of the cardiovascular system. To provide morphological evidence that these functions could be mediated via the basal forebrain, we performed correlated light and electron microscopic double-immunolabeling experiments using antibodies against phenylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PNMT) and choline acetyltransferase, the synthesizing enzymes for adrenaline and acetylcholine, respectively. Most adrenergic/ cholinergic appositions were located in the horizontal limb of diagonal band of Broca, within the substantia innominata, and in a narrow band bordering the substantia innominata and the globus pallidus. Quantitative analysis indicated that cholinergic neurons of the substantia innominata receive significantly higher numbers of adrenergic appositions than cholinergic cells in the rest of the basal forebrain. In the majority of cases, the ultrastructural analysis revealed axodendritic asymmetric synapses. By comparing the number and distribution of dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH)/cholinergic appositions, described earlier, with those of PNMT/cholinergic interactions in the basal forebrain, it can be concluded that a significant proportion of putative DBH/cholinergic contacts may represent adrenergic input. Our results support the hypothesis that the adrenergic/cholinergic link in the basal forebrain may represent a critical component of a central network coordinating autonomic regulation with cortical activation.
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