Nucleus incertus-An emerging modulatory role in arousal, stress and memory

Philip J. Ryan, Sherie Ma, Francisco E. Olucha-Bordonau, Andrew L. Gundlach

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


A major challenge in systems neuroscience is to determine the underlying neural circuitry and associated neurotransmitters and receptors involved in psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression. A focus of many of these studies has been specific brainstem nuclei that modulate levels of arousal via their ascending monoaminergic projections (e.g. the serotonergic dorsal raphé, noradrenergic locus ceruleus and cholinergic laterodorsal tegmental nucleus). After years of relative neglect, the subject of recent studies in this context has been the GABAergic nucleus incertus,. 11Incertus, uncertain, doubtful, unsure, hesitant (Latin). which is located in the midline periventricular central gray in the 'prepontine' hindbrain, with broad projections throughout the forebrain. Nucleus incertus neurons express receptors for the stress hormone, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), are activated by psychological stressors, and project to key nuclei involved in stress responses and behavioral activation. The nucleus incertus is also a node in neural circuits capable of modulating hippocampal theta rhythm, which is related to control of spatial navigation and memory. A significant population of nucleus incertus neurons express the recently discovered, highly conserved neuropeptide, relaxin-3; and the recent availability of structurally-related, chimeric peptides that selectively activate or inhibit the relaxin-3 receptor, RXFP3, is facilitating studies of relaxin-3/RXFP3 networks and associated GABA and CRF systems. It is predicted that such targeted research will help elucidate the functions of ascending nucleus incertus pathways, including their possible involvement in arousal (sleep/wakefulness), stress reponses, and learning and memory; and in the pathology of related psychiatric diseases such as insomnia, anxiety and depression, and cognitive deficits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1341
Number of pages16
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Arousal
  • Behavioral state system
  • Circadian activity
  • Corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)
  • GABA
  • Neuropeptides
  • Nucleus incertus or nucleus O
  • Relaxin-3
  • Spatial cognition
  • Stress
  • Theta rhythm

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