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Functional disconnection of the substantia nigra pars compacta from the pedunculopontine nucleus impairs learning of a conditioned avoidance task

Bortolanza, Mariza and Wietzikoski, Evellyn C and Boschen, Suelen L and Dombrowski, Patricia A and Latimer, Mary and Maclaren, Duncan and Winn, Philip and Da Cunha, Claudio (2010) Functional disconnection of the substantia nigra pars compacta from the pedunculopontine nucleus impairs learning of a conditioned avoidance task. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 94 (2). pp. 229-39.

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The pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPTg) targets nuclei in the basal ganglia, including the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc), in which neuronal loss occurs in Parkinson's disease, a condition in which patients show cognitive as well as motor disturbances. Partial loss and functional abnormalities of neurons in the PPTg are also associated with Parkinson's disease. We hypothesized that the interaction of PPTg and SNc might be important for cognitive impairments and so investigated whether disrupting the connections between the PPTg and SNc impaired learning of a conditioned avoidance response (CAR) by male Wistar rats. The following groups were tested: PPTg unilateral; SNc unilateral; PPTg-SNc ipsilateral (ipsilateral lesions in PPTg and SNc); PPTg-SNc contralateral (contralateral lesions in PPTg and SNc); sham lesions (of each type). SNc lesions were made with 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine HCl (MPTP, 0.6micromol); PPTg lesions with ibotenate (24nmol). After recovery, all rats underwent 50-trial sessions of 2-way active avoidance conditioning for 3 consecutive days. Rats with unilateral lesions in PPTg or SNc learnt this, however rats with contralateral (but not ipsilateral) combined lesions in both structures presented no sign of learning. This effect was not likely to be due to sensorimotor impairment because lesions did not affect reaction time to the tone or footshock during conditioning. However, an increased number of non-responses were observed in the rats with contralateral lesions. The results support the hypothesis that a functional interaction between PPTg and SNc is needed for CAR learning and performance.