Impairment of radial-arm maze performance in rats following lesions involving the cholinergic medial pathway: reversal by arecoline and differential effects of muscarinic and nicotinic antagonists.
Pharmacologic studies have indicated that accurate performance on the radial-arm maze depends upon the integrity of both nicotinic and muscarinic cholinergic neurotransmitter systems and that these systems interact in a complex fashion. Although numerous studies have suggested that pathways deriving from the basal nuclear complex of the forebrain are critical for the cholinergic modulation of learning and memory, most have focussed on the septohippocampal projection, and none have specifically targeted the medial or lateral systems. In Experiment 1, cortical knife cuts interrupting the medial cholinergic pathway were made at the level of the caudate-putamen nucleus. Such transections produced a robust but temporary disruption of choice accuracy performance in the radial-arm maze. Recovery of this behavior occurred within 10 days and before cholinergic fiber regeneration, suggesting that compensatory changes could have taken place in non-ablated neuronal circuits. In Experiment 2, daily postsurgical administration of arecoline, an agonist with predominantly muscarinic actions, was found to virtually eliminate the adverse behavioral effects of medial pathway transections, indicating that the deficit could be attributable, in part, to disruption of cholinergic projections. In Experiment 3, the effects of scopolamine, a muscarinic antagonist, and mecamylamine, a nicotinic antagonist, were examined in rats with medial cholinergic pathway transections after behavior had returned postsurgically to control levels. Although both drugs attenuated radial-arm maze performance before knife cuts, only scopolamine reduced choice accuracy following surgery. We conclude that the medial cholinergic pathway, particularly its nicotinic actions, plays an important role in cognitive function, at least as exemplified by radial-arm maze performance. Muscarinic mechanisms associated with other telencephalically projecting cholinergic networks, as well as possibly with the medial pathway itself, appear to operate interactively with nicotinic influences.
McGurk, SR; Levin, ED; Butcher, LL
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