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Keywords:

  • rat;
  • reversals;
  • stimulus–reward learning;
  • thalamic nuclei;
  • visual discrimination

Abstract

The effects of excitotoxic lesions of the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus, the anterior thalamic nuclei and of the prelimbic cortex were examined on two tests of discrimination and reversal learning. In experiment 1A (visual discrimination and reversal), rats were required to discriminate two stimuli, and respond to the stimulus associated with reward (the S+ stimulus). There was no effect of lesion on acquisition of this task. However, when stimulus–reward contingencies were reversed, animals with lesions of the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus made significantly more errors than control animals or animals of other lesion groups. In experiment 1B (conditional discrimination), animals were required to learn a rule of the type ‘If stimulus A then go left, if stimulus B then go right’. No main effect of lesion on acquisition was observed in this experiment. To test the generality of the reversal effect obtained in experiment 1A, a second cohort of animals with the same lesions was tested on acquisition of the visuospatial conditional task immediately postsurgery, followed by the reversal of the conditional rule (experiment 2). As in experiment 1B, no main effect of lesion group was observed during acquisition of the task. However, lesions of the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus resulted in a mild impairment according to number of sessions required to attain criterion performance of the task when the response rule was reversed. The results of the present study provide evidence for a role for the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus in new learning, particularly when stimulus–reward contingencies are reversed. Furthermore, they show that the functions of this thalamic nucleus can be dissociated from those of the anterior thalamus and the prelimbic cortex.