The human locus coeruleus: Computer reconstruction of cellular distribution

D. C. German, B. S. Walker, K. Manaye, W. K. Smith, D. J. Woodward, A. J. North

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145 Scopus citations


Quantitative neuroanatomical techniques were developed to map the distribution of norepinephrine-containing locus coeruleus (LC) neurons in the adult human brain. These neurons reside in the dorsolateral pontine tegmentum and are identifiable by their neuromelanin pigment content. Five brains, ranging in age from 60 to 104 years, were examined. Outlines of coronal or sagittal sections containing the LC were entered into a computer along with the location of each cell, certain neuroanatomical landmarks, and cell size. Sections were aligned with specific neuroanatomical landmarks so that the computer-generated distribution of cells was representative of the in situ distribution of cells. Analysis of (1) the number of cells in sections throughout the rostrocaudal extent of the nucleus, (2) cell size, (3) 3-dimensional reconstructions of the distribution of cells within the brain stem, and (4) 2-dimensional cell-frequency maps, make it possible to quantitatively characterize the distribution of cells within this large nucleus. The total estimated number of LC cells on both sides of the brain ranged from 45,562 to 18,940 (youngest to oldest), and mean soma area ranged from 835 to 718 μm2 (youngest to oldest). The nucleus is 'tube-like' in shape, has a rostrocaudal extent of approximately 16 mm, and is bilaterally symmetrical. Two-dimensional cell-frequency maps were developed to illustrate the regional distribution of cell frequencies at any rostrocaudal/mediolateral point on the horizontal plane; the total unilateral area of the LC ranged from 32.8 to 17.2 mm2 (youngest to oldest). The techniques developed to characterize the 2- and 3-dimensional distributions of LC neurons can be used in future studies to quantitatively examine the effects of aging and disease on this and other brain nuclei.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1776-1788
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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