Awakening the sleeping giant: Anatomy and plasticity of the brain serotonergic system

E. C. Azmitia, P. M. Whitaker-Azmitia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The serotonergic neurons of the mammalian brain comprise one of the most expansive chemical systems known. The cell bodies are largely confined to the midline (raphe) region of the brain stem in two general clusters: a superior group that consists of the dorsal raphe nucleus (B-7 and B-6), median raphe nucleus (B-8 and B-5), caudal linear nucleus (rostral B-8), and supralemniscal nucleus (B-9), and an inferior group that consists of nucleus raphe obscurus (B-2), nucleus raphe pallidus (B-1), nucleus raphe magnus (B-3), ventral lateral medulla (B-1/B-3), and the area postrema. The axons from these cells project throughout the neuroaxis from the spinal cord to the olfactory bulb and from the cerebral cortex to the hypothalamus. The development of this giant system begins very early in gestation and is influenced by a variety of growth regulatory factors, including the astroglial protein S-100β. Evidence will be presented that the serotonergic system plays a major role in the maturation of the brain by interacting with the 5-HT(1A) receptors which are most dense during these early developmental periods. The 5-HT(1A) receptor is located on both neurons and astrocytes, and in the latter cells may serve to stimulate release of S-100β. The developmental role of 5-HT appears to become dormant as the brain matures, and during aging and Alzheimer's disease, 5-HT receptors are significantly depressed. However, specific damage to 5-HT fibers in the adult brain by 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine produces a sharp fall in the levels of 5-HT which seems to reactivate the developmental signals in the brain. Not only are the serotonergic fibers encouraged to sprout and expand their territory, but the stimulation of the astrocytic growth factor by a 5-HT(1A) agonist is reinstated. The ability to recall developmental processes in the adult brain by interrupting the 5-HT fibers may provide important tools for understanding and treating the aged brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-16
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychiatry
Issue number12 SUPPL.
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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