Plasticity of sensory responses of locus coeruleus neurons in the behaving rat: implications for cognition

Prog Brain Res. 1991;88:571-85. doi: 10.1016/s0079-6123(08)63835-2.


The gating and tuning actions of noradrenaline (NA) at post-synaptic sites have been highly suggestive of an important role for the locus coeruleus (LC) in attention, learning and memory. By recording the activity of single units in the LC in behaving rats in a strictly controlled conditioning paradigm, direct evidence was provided that this nucleus is engaged during specific aspects of learning. The neuronal response to a discrete sensory stimulus was monitored as a function of the changing significance of the stimulus i.e., when it was novel, during habituation, associative learning, reversal and extinction. Both appetitive and aversive paradigms were used. We consistently observed differential conditioned responding with food reinforcement, while when footshock reinforcement was used, there was an increase in response to both CS+ and CS-. In both paradigms, the LC response disappeared when the conditioning was expressed at a behavioral level, to reappear vigorously as soon as the stimulus reinforcement contingencies were changed, i.e., during reversal or extinction. These results suggest that the LC does not mediate specific sensory or associative information necessary for ongoing performance but shows remarkable plasticity of sensory responding as a function of changing cognitive significance of the stimulus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Rats / physiology*
  • Rats / psychology
  • Rats, Inbred Strains / physiology
  • Rats, Inbred Strains / psychology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology