Selective lesions of the cholinergic neurons within the posterior pedunculopontine do not alter operant learning or nicotine sensitization

MacLaren, Duncan A. A. and Wilson, David I. G. and Winn, Philip (2015) Selective lesions of the cholinergic neurons within the posterior pedunculopontine do not alter operant learning or nicotine sensitization. Brain Structure and Function. ISSN 1863-2653 (

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Cholinergic neurons within the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus have been implicated in a range of functions, including behavioral state control, attention, and modulation of midbrain and basal ganglia systems. Previous experiments with excitotoxic lesions have found persistent learning impairment and altered response to nicotine following lesion of the posterior component of the PPTg (pPPTg). These effects have been attributed to disrupted input to midbrain dopamine systems, particularly the ventral tegmental area. The pPPTg contains a dense collection of cholinergic neurons and also large numbers of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. Because these interdigitated populations of neurons are all susceptible to excitotoxins, the effects of such lesions cannot be attributed to one neuronal population. We wished to assess whether the learning impairments and altered responses to nicotine in excitotoxic PPTg-lesioned rats were due to loss of cholinergic neurons within the pPPTg. Selective depletion of cholinergic pPPTg neurons is achievable with the fusion toxin Dtx-UII, which targets UII receptors expressed only by cholinergic neurons in this region. Rats bearing bilateral lesions of cholinergic pPPTg neurons (>90 % ChAT+ neuronal loss) displayed no deficits in the learning or performance of fixed and variable ratio schedules of reinforcement for pellet reward. Separate rats with the same lesions had a normal locomotor response to nicotine and furthermore sensitized to repeated administration of nicotine at the same rate as sham controls. Previously seen changes in these behaviors following excitotoxic pPPTg lesions cannot be attributed solely to loss of cholinergic neurons. These findings indicate that non-cholinergic neurons within the pPPTg are responsible for the learning deficits and altered responses to nicotine seen after excitotoxic lesions. The functions of cholinergic neurons may be related to behavioral state control and attention rather than learning.