Locus Coeruleus: From Global Projection System to Adaptive Regulation of Behavior

The brainstem nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) is a major source of norepinephrine (NE) projections throughout the CNS. This important property was masked in very early studies by the inability to visualize endogenous monoamines. The development of monoamine histofluorescence methods by Swedish scientists led to a plethora of studies, including a paper published in Brain Research by Loizou in 1969. That paper was highly cited (making it a focal point for the 50th anniversary issue of this journal), and helped to spark a large and continuing set of investigations to further refine our understating of the LC-NE system and its contribution to brain function and behavior. This paper very briefly reviews the ensuing advances in anatomical, physiological and behavioral aspects of the LC-NE system. Although its projections are ubiquitously present throughout the CNS, recent studies find surprising specificity within the organizational and operational domains of LC neurons. These and other findings lead us to expect that future work will unmask additional features of the LC-NE system and its roles in normative and pathological brain and behavioral processes.