The medial orbital (MO) and ventral orbital (VO) cortices are prominent divisions of the orbitomedial prefrontal cortex. To our knowledge, no previous report in the rat has comprehensively described the projections of MO and VO. By using the anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin and the retrograde tracer Fluoro-Gold, we examined the efferent projections of MO and VO in the rat. Although MO and VO projections overlap, MO distributes more widely throughout the brain, particularly to limbic structures, than does VO. The main cortical targets of MO were the orbital, ventral medial prefrontal (mPFC), agranular insular, piriform, retrosplenial, and parahippocampal cortices. The main subcortical targets of MO were the medial striatum, olfactory tubercle, claustrum, nucleus accumbens, septum, substantia innominata, lateral preoptic area, and diagonal band nuclei of the basal forebrain; central, medial, cortical, and basal nuclei of amygdala; paratenial, mediodorsal, and reuniens nuclei of the thalamus; posterior, supramammillary, and lateral nuclei of the hypothalamus; and periaqueductal gray, ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra, dorsal and median raphe, laterodorsal tegmental, and incertus nuclei of the brainstem. By comparison, VO distributes to some of these same sites, notably to the striatum, but lacks projections to parts of limbic cortex, to nucleus accumbens, and to the amygdala. VO distributes much more strongly, however, than MO to the medial (frontal) agranular, anterior cingulate, sensorimotor, posterior parietal, lateral agranular retrosplenial, and temporal association cortices. The patterns of MO projections are similar to those of the mPFC, whereas the projections of VO overlap with those of the ventrolateral orbital cortex (VLO). This suggests that MO serves functions comparable to those of the mPFC, such as goal-directed behavior, and VO performs functions similar to VLO such as directed attention. MO/VO may also serve as a link between lateral orbital and medial prefrontal cortices.
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