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Keywords:

  • α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor;
  • exploration;
  • motivation;
  • mice;
  • mutant;
  • prepulse inhibition;
  • procedural learning;
  • schizophrenia;
  • set-shifting;
  • short-term memory

The α7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) has long been a procognitive therapeutic target to treat schizophrenia. Evidence on the role of this receptor in cognition has been lacking, however, in part due to the limited availability of suitable ligands. The behavior of α7-nAChR knockout (KO) mice has been examined previously, but cognitive assessments using tests with cross-species translatability have been limited to date. Here, we assessed the cognitive performance of α7-nAChR KO and wild-type (WT) littermate mice in the attentional set-shifting task of executive functioning, the radial arm maze test of spatial working memory span capacity and the novel object recognition test of short-term memory. The reward motivation of these mutants was assessed using the progressive ratio breakpoint test. In addition, we assessed the exploratory behavior and sensorimotor gating using the behavioral pattern monitor and prepulse inhibition, respectively. α7-nAChR KO mice exhibited normal set-shifting, but impaired procedural learning (rule acquisition) in multiple paradigms. Spatial span capacity, short-term memory, motivation for food, exploration and sensorimotor gating were all comparable to WT littermates. The data presented here support the notion that this receptor is important for such procedural learning, when patterns in the environment become clear and a rule is learned. In combination with the impaired attention observed previously in these mice, this finding suggests that agonist treatments should be examined in clinical studies of attention and procedural learning, perhaps in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy.