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Lesions to the subthalamic nucleus decrease impulsive choice but impair autoshaping in rats: the importance of the basal ganglia in Pavlovian conditioning and impulse control


Dr Catharine Winstanley, at *present address below.


Although the subthalamic nucleus (STN) is involved in regulating motor function, and inactivation of this structure relieves the motor symptoms in Parkinsonian patients, recent data indicate that corticosubthalamic connections are involved in both the regulation of attention and the ability to withhold from responding. Considerable evidence suggests that the neural circuitry underlying such behavioural disinhibition or impulsive action can be at least partially dissociated from that implicated in impulsive decision-making and it has been suggested that the tendency to choose impulsively is related to the ability to form and use Pavlovian associations. To explore these hypotheses further, STN-lesioned rats were tested on the delay-discounting model of impulsive choice, where impulsivity is defined as the selection of a small immediate over a larger delayed reward, as well as in a rodent autoshaping paradigm. In contrast to previous reports of increased impulsive action, STN lesions decreased impulsive choice but dramatically impaired the acquisition of the autoshaping response. When the STN was lesioned after the establishment of autoshaping behaviour, lesioned subjects were more sensitive to the omission of reward, indicative of a reduction in the use of Pavlovian associations to control autoshaping performance. These results emphasize the importance of the STN in permitting conditioned stimulus–unconditioned stimulus associations to regulate goal-seeking, a function which may relate to the alterations in impulsive choice observed in the delay-discounting task. These data bear a striking similarity to those observed after lesions of the orbitofrontal cortex and are suggestive of an important role for corticosubthalamic connections in complex cognitive behaviour.