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      Functional Neuroanatomy of the Noradrenergic Locus Coeruleus: Its Roles in the Regulation of Arousal and Autonomic Function Part I: Principles of Functional Organisation

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          Abstract

          The locus coeruleus (LC) is the major noradrenergic nucleus of the brain, giving rise to fibres innervating extensive areas throughout the neuraxis. Recent advances in neuroscience have resulted in the unravelling of the neuronal circuits controlling a number of physiological functions in which the LC plays a central role. Two such functions are the regulation of arousal and autonomic activity, which are inseparably linked largely via the involvement of the LC. The LC is a major wakefulness-promoting nucleus, resulting from dense excitatory projections to the majority of the cerebral cortex, cholinergic neurones of the basal forebrain, cortically-projecting neurones of the thalamus, serotoninergic neurones of the dorsal raphe and cholinergic neurones of the pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nucleus, and substantial inhibitory projections to sleep-promoting GABAergic neurones of the basal forebrain and ventrolateral preoptic area. Activation of the LC thus results in the enhancement of alertness through the innervation of these varied nuclei. The importance of the LC in controlling autonomic function results from both direct projections to the spinal cord and projections to autonomic nuclei including the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus, the nucleus ambiguus, the rostroventrolateral medulla, the Edinger-Westphal nucleus, the caudal raphe, the salivatory nuclei, the paraventricular nucleus, and the amygdala. LC activation produces an increase in sympathetic activity and a decrease in parasympathetic activity via these projections. Alterations in LC activity therefore result in complex patterns of neuronal activity throughout the brain, observed as changes in measures of arousal and autonomic function.

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          Most cited references 407

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          Descending control of pain.

           Mark J Millan (2002)
          Upon receipt in the dorsal horn (DH) of the spinal cord, nociceptive (pain-signalling) information from the viscera, skin and other organs is subject to extensive processing by a diversity of mechanisms, certain of which enhance, and certain of which inhibit, its transfer to higher centres. In this regard, a network of descending pathways projecting from cerebral structures to the DH plays a complex and crucial role. Specific centrifugal pathways either suppress (descending inhibition) or potentiate (descending facilitation) passage of nociceptive messages to the brain. Engagement of descending inhibition by the opioid analgesic, morphine, fulfils an important role in its pain-relieving properties, while induction of analgesia by the adrenergic agonist, clonidine, reflects actions at alpha(2)-adrenoceptors (alpha(2)-ARs) in the DH normally recruited by descending pathways. However, opioids and adrenergic agents exploit but a tiny fraction of the vast panoply of mechanisms now known to be involved in the induction and/or expression of descending controls. For example, no drug interfering with descending facilitation is currently available for clinical use. The present review focuses on: (1) the organisation of descending pathways and their pathophysiological significance; (2) the role of individual transmitters and specific receptor types in the modulation and expression of mechanisms of descending inhibition and facilitation and (3) the advantages and limitations of established and innovative analgesic strategies which act by manipulation of descending controls. Knowledge of descending pathways has increased exponentially in recent years, so this is an opportune moment to survey their operation and therapeutic relevance to the improved management of pain.
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            The hypocretins: hypothalamus-specific peptides with neuroexcitatory activity.

            We describe a hypothalamus-specific mRNA that encodes preprohypocretin, the putative precursor of a pair of peptides that share substantial amino acid identities with the gut hormone secretin. The hypocretin (Hcrt) protein products are restricted to neuronal cell bodies of the dorsal and lateral hypothalamic areas. The fibers of these neurons are widespread throughout the posterior hypothalamus and project to multiple targets in other areas, including brainstem and thalamus. Hcrt immunoreactivity is associated with large granular vesicles at synapses. One of the Hcrt peptides was excitatory when applied to cultured, synaptically coupled hypothalamic neurons, but not hippocampal neurons. These observations suggest that the hypocretins function within the CNS as neurotransmitters.
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              The locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system: modulation of behavioral state and state-dependent cognitive processes.

              Through a widespread efferent projection system, the locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system supplies norepinephrine throughout the central nervous system. Initial studies provided critical insight into the basic organization and properties of this system. More recent work identifies a complicated array of behavioral and electrophysiological actions that have in common the facilitation of processing of relevant, or salient, information. This involves two basic levels of action. First, the system contributes to the initiation and maintenance of behavioral and forebrain neuronal activity states appropriate for the collection of sensory information (e.g. waking). Second, within the waking state, this system modulates the collection and processing of salient sensory information through a diversity of concentration-dependent actions within cortical and subcortical sensory, attention, and memory circuits. Norepinephrine-dependent modulation of long-term alterations in synaptic strength, gene transcription and other processes suggest a potentially critical role of this neurotransmitter system in experience-dependent alterations in neural function and behavior. The ability of a given stimulus to increase locus coeruleus discharge activity appears independent of affective valence (appetitive vs. aversive). Combined, these observations suggest that the locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system is a critical component of the neural architecture supporting interaction with, and navigation through, a complex world. These observations further suggest that dysregulation of locus coeruleus-noradrenergic neurotransmission may contribute to cognitive and/or arousal dysfunction associated with a variety of psychiatric disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sleep and arousal disorders, as well as certain affective disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Independent of an etiological role in these disorders, the locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system represents an appropriate target for pharmacological treatment of specific attention, memory and/or arousal dysfunction associated with a variety of behavioral/cognitive disorders.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Curr Neuropharmacol
                CN
                Current Neuropharmacology
                Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.
                1570-159X
                1875-6190
                September 2008
                : 6
                : 3
                : 235-253
                Affiliations
                Psychopharmacology Section, University of Nottingham, Division of Psychiatry, Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK
                Author notes
                [* ]Address correspondence to this author at Psychopharmacology Section, University of Nottingham, Medical School (Room B109), Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, NG7 2UH, UK; Tel: +44(0)115 823 0219; Fax: +44(0)115 823 0220; E-mail: elemer.szabadi@ 123456nottingham.ac.uk
                Article
                CN-6-235
                10.2174/157015908785777229
                2687936
                19506723
                ©2008 Bentham Science Publishers Ltd.

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/), which permits unrestrictive use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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