Lesions of the rat nucleus basalis magnocellularis disrupt appetitive-to-aversive transfer learning

Research paper by A. E. Butt, J. A. Schultz, L. L. Arnold, E. E. Garman, C. L. George, P. E. Garraghty

Indexed on: 01 Oct '03Published on: 01 Oct '03Published in: Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science


Rats with selective lesions of the nucleus basalis magnocellularis (NBM) and sham-lesion control animals were tested in an operant appetitive-to-aversive transfer task. We hypothesized that NBM lesions would not affect performance in the appetitive phase, but that performance would be impaired during subsequent transfer to the aversive phase of the task. Additional groups of NBM lesion and control rats were tested in the avoidance condition only, where we hypothesized that NBM lesions would not disrupt performance. These hypotheses were based, on the argument that the NBM is not necessary for simple association learning that does not tax attention. Both the appetitive phase of the transfer task and the avoidance only task depend only on simple associative learning and are argued not to tax attention. Consequently, performance in these tasks was predicted to be spared following NBM lesions. Complex, attention-demanding associative learning, however, is argued to depend on the NBM. Performance, in the aversive phase of the transfer task is both attentionally demanding and associatively more complex than in either the appetitive or aversive tasks alone; thus, avoidance performance in the NBM lesion group was predicted to be impaired following transfer from prior appetitive conditioning. Results supported our hypotheses, with the NBM lesion group acquiring the appetitive response normally, but showing impaired performance following transfer to the aversive conditioning phase of the transfer task. Impairments were not attributable to disrupted avoidance learning per se, as avoidance behavior was normal in the NBM lesion group tested in the avoidance condition only.