Marine Biomedical Institute, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston 77555-0843.
Cells in the spinal cord that are postsynaptic to primary afferent fibers project to the dorsal column nuclei in the postsynaptic dorsal column pathway. The projection of cells in the cervical spinal cord of monkeys to the cuneate nucleus has been reported to avoid pars rotunda of that nucleus, the part that contains the somatotopic representation of the ipsilateral hand. We used the sensitive anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin to reexamine this projection. We made multiple iontophoretic injections into the cervical enlargements of three monkeys (two Macaca fascicularis and one Macaca mulatta). Control injections were made in the contralateral dorsal columns of one of these and in the dorsal roots of a fourth animal (M. fascicularis) to test for transport by fibers of passage. After 28-39 days, the animals were deeply anesthetized and perfused, and the tissue was processed for immunohistochemical detection of the label. In all cases (excluding control injections), labeled fibers and varicosities were distributed widely in the ipsilateral cuneate and external cuneate nuclei, including pars rotunda. The dorsal column nuclei ipsilateral to control injections contained no label or only very few poorly labeled fibers, indicating that labeling through fibers of passage did not contribute importantly to the results. This study indicates that the postsynaptic projection to the cuneate nucleus is widespread and includes pars rotunda. Such projections may contribute to transmission of information originating in nociceptors through the dorsal column-medial lemniscal system to the ventrobasal thalamus.