Enhanced behavioral conditioning to context and impaired behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to conditioned stimuli following ceruleocortical noradrenergic lesions: Support for an attentional hypothesis of central noradrenergic function

Nathan Selden, Trevor W. Robbins, Barry J. Everitt

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This study tested the hypothesis that cortical noradrenaline (NA) depletion induced by 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) widens attentional span, impairing the acquisition of conditioning to an explicit stimulus while enhancing conditioning to contextual stimuli. Sham-operated and NA-depleted rats were exposed to pairings of an auditory (clicker) CS and (footshock) US in a distinctive environment. Half of the lesioned and half of the control animals were trained with a short trace interval between presentations of clicker and shock, and half with a long trace. Associative learning theory predicts that a long trace interval should bias intact animals towards stronger contextual conditioning and, in contrast, a short trace interval should bias controls towards stronger CS conditioning. During testing, NA-depleted animals showed impaired fear conditioning to explicit cues, compared with controls, indicated by their reduced suppression of drinking when the CS was introduced into a separate, lick-operant chamber. In contrast, the same animals exhibited enhanced tear of contextual cues, as shown by their greater preference for a "safe" environment over the one in which they were shocked. The behavioral and plasma corticosterone responses of individual animals to the CS were positively correlated in both the lesion and sham groups. Corticosterone levels corroborated the impairment in CS conditioning caused by the lesion. In contrast, behavioral and corticosterone responses to contextual stimuli were not significantly correlated in either group, and there was no enhancement of the corticosterone response to contextual stimuli in the lesioned animals. These findings indicate that the complex and seemingly opposing effects that can result from ceruleocortical NA depletion nevertheless support the proposal that noradrenergic projections are involved in the control of selective attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-539
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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