Lesions of the Basal forebrain cholinergic system impair task acquisition and abolish cortical plasticity associated with motor skill learning

Neuron. 2003 Jun 5;38(5):819-29. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(03)00288-5.


The contribution of the basal forebrain cholinergic system in mediating plasticity of cortical sensorimotor representations was examined in the context of normal learning. The effects of specific basal forebrain cholinergic lesions upon cortical reorganization associated with learning a skilled motor task were investigated, addressing, for the first time, the functional consequences of blocking cortical map plasticity. Results demonstrate that disrupting basal forebrain cholinergic function disrupts cortical map reorganization and impairs motor learning. Cholinergic lesions do not impair associative fear learning or overall sensorimotor function. These results support the hypothesis that the basal forebrain cholinergic system may be specifically implicated in forms of learning requiring plasticity of cortical representations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / injuries
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / physiopathology*
  • Basal Nucleus of Meynert / surgery
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cholinergic Fibers / physiology*
  • Immunotoxins
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Learning Disabilities / metabolism
  • Learning Disabilities / pathology
  • Learning Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Motor Skills Disorders / metabolism
  • Motor Skills Disorders / pathology
  • Motor Skills Disorders / physiopathology
  • N-Glycosyl Hydrolases
  • Neural Pathways / injuries
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways / surgery
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Plant Proteins
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred F344
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1
  • Saporins


  • Immunotoxins
  • Plant Proteins
  • Ribosome Inactivating Proteins, Type 1
  • N-Glycosyl Hydrolases
  • Saporins
  • Acetylcholine