Pars compacta of the substantia nigra modulates motor activity but is not involved importantly in regulating food and water intake
Precise, bilateral radio-frequency lesions of pars compacta of the substantia nigra in rats resulted in the immediate and sustained appearance of hyperactivity, but such lesions did not produce significant alterations in food or water intake. These behavioral effects were correlated with considerable, histochemically assessed loss of dopamine terminals in the caudate-putamen complex, but dopamine innervation in nucleus accumbens and other forebrain areas was only slightly affected. The magnitude of motor activity increase was positively correlated with the degree of pars compacta involvement. Animals with lesions in the median raphe and adjacent reticular formation also displayed chronic hyperactivity. In contrast to rats receiving discrete radio-frequency lesions of pars compacta, animals with bilateral mesencephalic ablations produced by 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA, 8 μg/4 μl or 4 μg/2 μl in combination with desipramine pretreatment) displayed poverty of movement. Furthermore, significant, dose-dependent decrements in food and water intake were seen after 6-OHDA. The nonselective component of such lesions was frequently large and irregular in shape. Occasional ablations produced by this neurotoxin, however, appeared more selective in that damage was confined primarily to pars compacta. Nonetheless, the best correlate of aphagia and adipsia associated with 6-OHDA treatment was lesion size, regardless of the extent of pars compacta or other nigral involvement. We conclude that aphagia and adipsia concomitant to 6-OHDA lesions of the substantia nigra result from the incidental destruction of extra-nigral systems. Virtually complete, but precise, lesions of pars compacta do not produce aphagia and adipsia. While our results are consistent with the notion that the substantia nigra serves an important role in the regulation of motor activity, they provide no support for the conjecture that it is importantly involved in mediating ingestive behaviors.