Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 221, Issue 6, pp 2937–2962 | Cite as

Organization of connections between the amygdala, medial prefrontal cortex, and lateral hypothalamus: a single and double retrograde tracing study in rats

  • Christina J. Reppucci
  • Gorica D. PetrovichEmail author
Original Article


The amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are highly interconnected telencephalic areas critical for cognitive processes, including associative learning and decision making. Both structures strongly innervate the lateral hypothalamus (LHA), an important component of the networks underlying the control of feeding and other motivated behaviors. The amygdala–prefrontal–lateral hypothalamic system is therefore well positioned to exert cognitive control over behavior. However, the organization of this system is not well defined, particularly the topography of specific circuitries between distinct cell groups within these complex, heterogeneous regions. This study used two retrograde tracers to map the connections from the amygdala (central and basolateral area nuclei) and mPFC to the LHA in detail, and to determine whether amygdalar pathways to the mPFC and to LHA originate from the same or different neurons. One tracer was placed into a distinct mPFC area (dorsal anterior cingulate, prelimbic, infralimbic, or rostromedial orbital), and the other into dorsal or ventral LHA. We report that the central nucleus and basolateral area of the amygdala send projections to distinct LHA regions, dorsal and ventral, respectively. The basolateral area, but not central nucleus, also sends substantial projections to the mPFC, topographically organized rostrocaudal to dorsoventral. The entire mPFC, in turn, projects to the LHA, providing a separate route for potential amygdalar influence following mPFC processing. Nearly all amygdalar projections to the mPFC and to the LHA originated from different neurons suggesting amygdala and amygdala–mPFC processing influence the LHA independently, and the balance of these parallel pathways ultimately controls motivated behaviors.


Amygdala Prefrontal cortex Hypothalamus Behavior Motivation Feeding 



Anterior cingulate area, dorsal part


Anterior cingulate area, ventral part


Basolateral amygdalar nucleus


Basolateral amygdalar nucleus, anterior part


Basolateral amygdalar nucleus, posterior part


Basomedial amygdalar nucleus


Basomedial amygdalar nucleus, anterior part


Basomedial amygdalar nucleus, posterior part


Central amygdalar nucleus


Central amygdalar nucleus, capsular part


Central amygdalar nucleus, lateral part


Central amygdalar nucleus, medial part




Infralimbic area


Lateral amygdalar nucleus


Lateral hypothalamic area


Lateral hypothalamic area, dorsal region


Lateral hypothalamic area, juxtadorsomedial region


Lateral hypothalamic area, juxtaventromedial region, dorsal zone


Lateral hypothalamic area, juxtaventromedial region, ventral zone


Lateral hypothalamic area, suprafornical region


Medial prefrontal cortex


Orbital area


Orbital area, lateral part


Orbital area, medial part


Orbital area, ventral part


Orbital area, ventrolateral part


Prelimbic area


Tuberal nucleus



We thank Meghana Kuthyar and Heather Mayer for technical assistance. This research was supported in part by National Institute of Health grant DK085721 to G.D.P.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

All procedures performed in this study involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Boston College Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBoston CollegeChestnut HillUSA

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