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Acute inactivation of the inferior olive blocks associative learning


  • John P. Welsh,

    1. Department of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University Medical Center, 550 First Ave., New York, NY 10016, USA
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  • John A. Harvey

    1. Division of Behavioural Neurobiology, Department of Pharmacology, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, 3200 Henry Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19129, USA
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J. P. Welsh, as above. E-mail:


Can acute inactivation of the inferior olive block associative learning? We anaesthetized the inferior olive with lidocaine while rabbits simultaneously: (i) performed conditioned nictitating membrane responses to a flashing light to which they had already been trained; and (ii) underwent their first experience with classical conditioning of the same response to a tone. Inactivation of the inferior olive immediately and reversibly abolished the performance of conditioned responses and prevented learning during rabbits' initial conditioning with a tone-conditioned stimulus. When olivary function was restored, rabbits showed no signs of having learned under olivary anaesthesia. The experiment demonstrates that an acute disruption in olivary function can block learning, in addition to severely degrading motor control. The results are interpreted to indicate the importance of the inferior olive in optimizing learning, perhaps through a general role in regulating temporal processing.