Anatomical analysis of afferent projections to the medial prefrontal cortex in the rat
The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) has been associated with diverse functions including attentional processes, visceromotor activity, decision making, goal directed behavior, and working memory. Using retrograde tracing techniques, we examined, compared, and contrasted afferent projections to the four divisions of the mPFC in the rat: the medial (frontal) agranular (AGm), anterior cingulate (AC), prelimbic (PL), and infralimbic (IL) cortices. Each division of the mPFC receives a unique set of afferent projections. There is a shift dorsoventrally along the mPFC from predominantly sensorimotor input to the dorsal mPFC (AGm and dorsal AC) to primarily ‘limbic’ input to the ventral mPFC (PL and IL). The AGm and dorsal AC receive afferent projections from widespread areas of the cortex (and associated thalamic nuclei) representing all sensory modalities. This information is presumably integrated at, and utilized by, the dorsal mPFC in goal directed actions. In contrast with the dorsal mPFC, the ventral mPFC receives significantly less cortical input overall and afferents from limbic as opposed to sensorimotor regions of cortex. The main sources of afferent projections to PL/IL are from the orbitomedial prefrontal, agranular insular, perirhinal and entorhinal cortices, the hippocampus, the claustrum, the medial basal forebrain, the basal nuclei of amygdala, the midline thalamus and monoaminergic nuclei of the brainstem. With a few exceptions, there are few projections from the hypothalamus to the dorsal or ventral mPFC. Accordingly, subcortical limbic information mainly reaches the mPFC via the midline thalamus and basal nuclei of amygdala. As discussed herein, based on patterns of afferent (as well as efferent) projections, PL is positioned to serve a direct role in cognitive functions homologous to dorsolateral PFC of primates, whereas IL appears to represent a visceromotor center homologous to the orbitomedial PFC of primates.