The Cellular Diversity of the Pedunculopontine Nucleus: Relevance to Behavior in Health and Aspects of Parkinson’s Disease

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The pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN) is a rostral brainstem structure that has extensive connections with basal ganglia nuclei and the thalamus. Through these the PPN contributes to neural circuits that effect cortical and hippocampal activity. The PPN also has descending connections to nuclei of the pontine and medullary reticular formations, deep cerebellar nuclei, and the spinal cord. Interest in the PPN has increased dramatically since it was first suggested to be a novel target for treating patients with Parkinson’s disease who are refractory to medication. However, application of frequency-specific electrical stimulation of the PPN has produced inconsistent results. A central reason for this is that the PPN is not a heterogeneous structure. In this article, we review current knowledge of the neurochemical identity and topographical distribution of neurons within the PPN of both humans and experimental animals, focusing on studies that used neuronally selective targeting strategies to ascertain how the neurochemical heterogeneity of the PPN relates to its diverse functions in relation to movement and cognitive processes. If the therapeutic potential of the PPN is to be realized, it is critical to understand the complex structure-function relationships that exist here.

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