The unconditioned stimulus pre-exposure effect (US-PE) refers to the interference paradigm in which acquisition of the conditioned response is retarded due to prior experience with the US. Most studies analyzing the psychological mechanisms underlying this effect have been conducted with adult rats. The most widely accepted hypothesis explains this effect as a contextual blocking effect. Contextual cues associated with the US block the conditioned stimulus (CS)-US association during conditioning. The modulatory role of a context devoid of distinctive olfactory attributes is not observable until approximately PD23 in rats, including modulation of interference paradigms such as latent inhibition or extinction. In this study, we analyzed US-PE in preweanling rats along with the role of the training context in this effect in terms of conditioned taste aversion preparation. Pre-exposure to LiCl before conditioning retarded the acquisition of taste aversion. The US-PE was observed in preweanling rats when, during pre-exposure, subjects were exposed to the conditioning context, and this effect was not attenuated either by the administration of the US in a familiar environment (Experiment 1a), or by the presence of an alternative, more salient context during pre-exposure (Experiment 1b). Additionally, the US-PE was still observed when the route by which the US was administered was changed between the pre-exposure and conditioning phases (Experiment 2a) as well as when the injection cues were removed during conditioning (Experiment 2b). These experiments show a strong US-PE in preweanling rats and fail to support the contextual blocking hypothesis, at least in this stage of ontogeny.
© 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 55: 193–204, 2013