Organization of the zona incerta in the macaque: An electron microscopic study

Terence P. Ma, James C. Johnson, Glenn A. Hoskins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: The zona incerta (ZI) receives projections from many telencephalic and brainstem structures. On the basis of its connectivity and physiology, this nucleus has been implicated in the control of saccadic eye movements. Because of the complexity of its afferent signals and its simple efferent signal, there must be much local interaction within the ZI to integrate these various afferents. The purpose of this study was to investigate, at the ultrastructural level, whether the ZI contains the anatomical substrata which could subserve the control of eye movements. Methods: Blocks of tissue from the ZI of macaque monkeys were prepared for electron microscopy using standard techniques. Some of these animals were taken specifically for electron microscopy. Others had received injections of tracer substances and were prepared for electron microscopy subsequent to tracer visualization. Results: Cell bodies of medium-large neurons were found in our preparations. They have large nucleoli and relatively small volumes of karyoplasm. Cell bodies and dendrites of all sizes have many synaptic contacts. Three types of synaptic profiles were found, designated Types 1, 2, and 3. Type 1 profiles are symmetrical and contact cell bodies and small dendrites. Type 2 profiles are thought to be presynaptic dendrites and may have symmetrical or asymmetrical contacts. Type 3 profiles are asymmetrical and primarily contact small dendrites. Many synapses contacted vesicle- containing profiles. In some cases, it was clear that these profiles participated in serial synapses on presumptive presynaptic dendrites. Other profiles appeared to be axoaxonic contacts. Conclusions: Afferent and efferent signals are likely to be modulated extensively within the ZI. Therefore, there needs to be complex interactions between neuronal elements of the ZI and its afferents. This study demonstrates that this nucleus possesses the structural substrata to subserve diverse roles, such as the gating of saccadic eye movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-275
Number of pages17
JournalThe Anatomical record
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Diencephalon
  • Eye movement
  • Saccade
  • Synapse
  • Thalamus
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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