In the present study, the functional neuroanatomy of nigrotectal–tectonigral pathways as well as the effects of central administration of opioid antagonists on aversive stimuli-induced responses elicited by electrical stimulation of the midbrain tectum were determined. Central microinjections of naloxonazine, a selective μ1-opiod receptor antagonist, in the mesencephalic tectum (MT) caused a significant increase in the escape thresholds elicited by local electrical stimulation. Furthermore, either naltrexone or naloxonazine microinjected in the substantia nigra, pars reticulata (SNpr), caused a significant increase in the defensive thresholds elicited by electrical stimulation of the continuum comprised by dorsolateral aspects of the periaqueductal gray matter (dlPAG) and deep layers of the superior colliculus (dlSC), as compared with controls. These findings suggest an opioid modulation of GABAergic inhibitory inputs controlling the defensive behavior elicited by MT stimulation, in cranial aspects. In fact, iontophoretic microinjections of the neurotracer biodextran into the SNpr, a mesencephalic structure rich in GABA-containing neurons, show outputs to neural substrate of the dlSC/dlPAG involved with the generation and organization of fear- and panic-like reactions. Neurochemical lesion of the nigrotectal pathways increased the sensitivity of the MT to electrical (at alertness, freezing and escape thresholds) and chemical (blockade of GABAA receptors) stimulation, suggesting a tonic modulatory effect of the nigrotectal GABAergic outputs on the neural networks of the MT involved with the organization of the defensive behavior and panic-like reactions. Labeled neurons of the midbrain tectum send inputs with varicosities to ipsi and contralateral dlSC/dlPAG and ipsilateral substantia nigra, pars reticulata and compacta, in which the anterograde and retrograde tracing from a single injection indicates that the substantia nigra has reciprocal connections with the dlSC/dlPAG featuring close axo-somatic and axo-dendritic appositions in both locations. In addition, ultrastructural approaches show inhibitory axo-axonic synapses in MT and inhibitory axo-somatic/axo-axonic synapses in the SNpr. These findings, in addition to the psychopharmacological evidence for the interaction between opioid and GABAergic mechanisms in the cranial aspects of the MT as well as in the mesencephalic tegmentum, offer a neuroanatomical basis of a pre-synaptic opioid inhibition of GABAergic nigrotectal neurons modulating fear in defensive behavior-related structures of the cranial mesencephalon, in a short link, and through a major neural circuit, also in GABA-containing perikarya and axons of nigrotectal neurons.
Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy 12/2005; 30(4):184-200. DOI:10.1016/j.jchemneu.2005.07.004 · 2.52 Impact Factor