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Lesions of the basal forebrain impair reversal learning but not shifting of attentional set in rats

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The cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain, which project to cortex, the thalamic reticular nucleus and the amygdala, are implicated in many aspects of attentional function, while the intrinsic neurons of the basal forebrain are implicated in learning and memory. This study compared the effects of lesions of the basal forebrain made with either the immunotoxin 192-IgG-saporin (which selectively destroys cholinergic neurons), or the non-selective excitotoxin, ibotenic acid (which destroys both cholinergic and non-cholinergic neurons) on a task which measure the acquisition and shifting of attentional set as well as the ability to learn reversals of specific stimulus-reward pairings. Rats learned to obtain food reward by digging in small bowls containing distinctive digging media that were differentially scented with distinct odours. They performed a series of two-choice discriminations, with the bait associated with either the odour or the digging medium. Rats with 192-IgG-saporin lesions of the basal forebrain were not impaired relative to control rats at any stage of the task. Rats with ibotenic acid lesions of the basal forebrain were impaired the first time stimulus-reward contingencies were reversed. They were not impaired in acquisition of new discriminations, even when an attentional-shift was required. These data are consistent with data from marmosets and so highlight the functional similarity of monkey and rodent basal forebrain. They also confirm the likely involvement of non-cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain in reversal learning. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-108
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Early online date4 Sep 2007
StatePublished - 11 Feb 2008

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