The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

The Zona Incerta Regulates Communication between the Superior Colliculus and the Posteromedial Thalamus: Implications for Thalamic Interactions with the Dorsolateral Striatum.

PMID 26109669


There is uncertainty concerning the circuit connections by which the superior colliculus interacts with the basal ganglia. To address this issue, anterograde and retrograde tracers were placed, respectively, into the superior colliculus and globus pallidus of Sprague-Dawley rats. In this two-tracer experiment, the projections from the superior colliculus terminated densely in the ventral zona incerta (ZIv), but did not overlap the labeled neurons observed in the subthalamic nucleus. In cases in which anterograde and retrograde tracers were placed, respectively, in sensory-responsive sites in the superior colliculus and posteromedial (POm) thalamus, the labeled projections from superior colliculus innervated the ZIv regions that contained the labeled neurons that project to POm. We also confirmed this colliculo-incertal-POm pathway by depositing a mixture of retrograde and anterograde tracers at focal sites in ZIv to reveal retrogradely labeled neurons in superior colliculus and anterogradely labeled terminals in POm. When combined with retrograde tracer injections in POm, immunohistochemical processing proved that most ZIv projections to POm are GABAergic. Consistent with these findings, direct stimulation of superior colliculus evoked neuronal excitation in ZIv and caused inhibition of spontaneous activity in POm. Collectively, these results indicate that superior colliculus can activate the inhibitory projections from ZIv to the POm. This is significant because it suggests that the superior colliculus could suppress the interactions between POm and the dorsolateral striatum, presumably to halt ongoing behaviors so that more adaptive motor actions are selected in response to unexpected sensory events. By demonstrating that the zona incerta regulates communication between the superior colliculus and the posteromedial thalamus, we have uncovered a circuit that partly explains the behavioral changes that occur in response to unexpected sensory stimuli. Furthermore, this circuit could explain why deep brain stimulation of the zona incerta is beneficial to patients who suffer from Parkinson's disease.