The present study describes the distribution and cellular morphology of catecholaminergic neurons in the diencephalon and midbrain of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). Tyrosine hydroxylase immunohistochemistry was used to visualize these putatively dopaminergic neurons. The standard A1-A17, C1-C3, nomenclature is used for expediency; however, the neuroanatomical names of the various nuclei have also been given. Dolphins exhibit certain tyrosine hydroxylase immunoreactive (TH-ir) catecholaminergic neuronal groups in the midbrain (A8, A9, A10) and diencephalon (A11, A12, A14), however, no neuronal clusters clearly corresponding to the A13 and A15 groups could be identified. The subdivisions of these neuronal groups are in general agreement with those of other mammals, but there is a high degree of species specificity. First, three TH-ir neuronal groups not identified in other species were found: in the ventral lateral peri-aqueductal gray matter, posterior dorsal hypothalamus, and rostral mesencephalic raphe. Second, the normal components of the substantia nigra (A9 or pars compacta, A9 lateral or pars lateralis, A9 ventral or pars reticulata) were extremely cell sparse, but there was a substantial expansion of the A9 medial and A10 lateral subdivisions forming an impressive ‘ventral wing’ in the posterior substantia nigra. The findings of this and previous studies suggest a distinct evolutionary trend occurring in the neuromodulatory systems in mammals. The results are discussed in relation to motor control, thermoregulation, unihemispheric sleep, and dolphin cognition.
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