The rostromedial zona incerta is involved in attentional processes while adjacent LHA responds to arousal: c-Fos and anatomical evidence

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Neurons producing melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) are located in the tuberal lateral hypothalamus (LHA) and in the rostromedial part of the zona incerta (ZI). This distribution suggests that rostromedial ZI shares some common features with the LHA. However, its functions with regard to arousal or feeding, which are often associated with the LHA, have not been thoroughly investigated. This study analyses the responses in the tuberal LHA and adjacent rostromedial ZI after experiments related to arousal, exploration, food teasing and ingestive behavior. Specific aspects of the connections of the rostromedial ZI were also studied using retrograde and anterograde tract-tracing approaches. The rostromedial ZI is activated during exploratory and teasing experiments. It receives specific projections from the frontal eye field and the anterior pole of the superior colliculus that are involved in gaze fixation and saccadic eye movements. It also receives projections from the laterodorsal tegmental nucleus involved in attention/arousal. By contrast, the tuberal LHA is activated during wakefulness and exploratory behavior and reportedly receives projections from the medial prefrontal and insular cortex, and from several brainstem structures such as the periaqueductal gray. We conclude that the rostromedial ZI is involved in attentional processes while the adjacent tuberal LHA is involved in arousal.

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Anterior cingulate area, dorsal part


Nucleus accumbens


Anterior commissure


Anterior commissure, olfactory limb


Anterodorsal nucleus thalamus


Anterior hypothalamic nucleus


Agranular insular area, dorsal part


Anteromedial nucleus thalamus


Anteromedial nucleus thalamus, dorsal part




Anterior pretectal nucleus


Cerebral aqueduct proper


Arcuate hypothalamic nucleus


Anteroventral nucleus thalamus


Basolateral amygdalar nucleus


Bed nuclei stria terminalis


Control rat


Central amygdalar nucleus


Central lateral nucleus thalamus




Central medial nucleus thalamus




Cerebral peduncle


Corticotropin-releasing hormone


Superior central nucleus raphé


Corticospinal tract


Cuneiform nucleus




Dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus


Dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus, anterior part


Dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus, posterior part


Dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus, ventral part


Dorsal nucleus raphé




Corpus callosum, anterior forceps


Frontal eye field


Fields of Forel






Fasciculus retroflexus


Columns of the fornix


Gamma-aminobutyric acid


Globus pallidus


Gustatory area




Horseradish peroxidase


Inferior colliculus, external nucleus


Infralimbic area


Intermediodorsal nucleus thalamus


Internal capsule




Interpeduncular nucleus


Lateral dorsal nucleus thalamus


Laterodorsal tegmental nucleus


Lateral geniculate complex


Lateral habenula


Lateral hypothalamic area


Lateral mammillary nucleus


Lateral posterior nucleus thalamus


Magnocellular nucleus


Melanin-concentrating hormone


Mediodorsal nucleus thalamus


Median eminence


Medial geniculate complex




Medial mammillary nucleus, body


Primary somatomotor area


Secondary somatomotor areas


Medial preoptic nucleus


Medial pretectal area


Midbrain reticular nucleus


Mammillothalamic tract


Naïve rat


Cage naïve rat


Nucleus of the lateral lemniscus


Night naïve rat


Nucleus of the optic tract


Nucleus of the posterior commissure


Optic tract


Olfactory tubercle


Periaqueductal gray


Parabrachial nucleus


Phosphate buffered saline


Phosphate buffered saline with triton


Parafascicular nucleus




Pontine gray


Posterior hypothalamic nucleus


Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin


Piriform area


Prelimbic area


Principal mammillary tract


Dorsal premammillary nucleus


Ventral premammillary nucleus


Posterior complex thalamus


Preoptic area


Peripeduncular nucleus


Pedunculopontine nucleus


Posterior pretectal nucleus


Perireuniens nucleus


Precommissural nucleus, periaqueductal gray


Pontine reticular nucleus


Principal sensory nucleus of the trigeminal


Paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus


Paraventricular thalamic nucleus




Nucleus reuniens


Nucleus reuniens, rostral division, anterior part


Rhomboid nucleus


Rostral linear nucleus raphé


Nucleus raphé magnus


Red nucleus


Region of interest


Midbrain reticular nucleus, retrorubral area


Re-fed rat


Reticular nucleus thalamus


Superior colliculus


Suprachiasmatic nucleus


Superior colliculus, intermediate gray layer


Septofimbrial nucleus


Substantia innominata


Stria medullaris


Submedial nucleus thalamus


Substantia nigra


Substantia nigra, reticular part


Primary somatosensory area


Subthalamic nucleus


Supramammillary nucleus


Supramammillary nucleus, lateral part


Teased rat


Tenia tecta


Third ventricle


Fourth ventricle


Ventral anterior-lateral complex thalamus


Lateral ventricle


Ventrolateral tract


Ventral medial nucleus thalamus


Ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus


Ventral posterolateral nucleus thalamus


Ventral posteromedial nucleus thalamus


Ventral tegmental area


Zona incerta


Zona incerta, dopaminergic group


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This research was supported by funding from the French Ministère de la Recherche et de la Technologie (EA 3922) and from the Région de Franche-Comté. The authors want to thank Frances Thivet for the help in the preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to P. Y. Risold.

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Movie S1 During the feeding procedure, the teased rat previously deprived of food during 24h spent most of the one hour experiment trying to reach the food inside the meshed box while the control rat rested in the cage. (MOV 2258 KB)

Movie S1 During the feeding procedure, the teased rat previously deprived of food during 24h spent most of the one hour experiment trying to reach the food inside the meshed box while the control rat rested in the cage. (MOV 2258 KB)

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Chometton, S., Charrière, K., Bayer, L. et al. The rostromedial zona incerta is involved in attentional processes while adjacent LHA responds to arousal: c-Fos and anatomical evidence. Brain Struct Funct 222, 2507–2525 (2017) doi:10.1007/s00429-016-1353-3

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  • Frontal eye field
  • Superior colliculus
  • Laterodorsal tegmental nucleus
  • Dorsomedial nucleus