Activation of the noradrenergic system facilitates an attentional shift in the rat

Behav Brain Res. 1990 Jun 18;39(1):19-28. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(90)90118-x.


The noradrenergic system was pharmacologically activated with the alpha 2 receptor antagonist, idazoxan (2 mg/kg i.p.), during the acquisition of a complex appetitive task requiring a shift in attention to stimulus dimension and in response strategy. Rats first learned a fixed path of 6 successive choices in a linear maze. The task was then changed to a visual discrimination task in which the spatial configuration of the correct path was indicated by visual cues and changed on each daily trial. During this part of the task, the rats were injected before each trial with idazoxan, a drug which increases the firing rate of neurons in the locus coeruleus and the release of noradrenaline in the cortex and hippocampus. Two control experiments showed that the drug treatment had no effect on the acquisition of either component of the task - the successive place learning or the visual discrimination. The drug was found to be effective only during the shift phase of the experiment, the idazoxan-treated rats taking fewer trials to reach criterion than the saline. A second experiment showed that idazoxan increased the amount of time spent investigating novel and unexpected objects in a familiar hole board. These results implicate the noradrenergic system in problem-solving which requires an attentional shift or a shift in responding from familiar to novel stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Proprioception / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Receptors, Adrenergic / physiology*


  • Receptors, Adrenergic