Red nucleus neurons actively contribute to the acquisition of classically conditioned eyelid responses in rabbits

J Neurosci. 2012 Aug 29;32(35):12129-43. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1782-12.2012.


The red nucleus (RN) is a midbrain premotor center that has been suggested as being involved in the acquisition and/or performance of classically conditioned nictitating membrane/eyelid responses. We recorded in rabbits the activity of RN and pararubral neurons during classical eyeblink conditioning using a delay paradigm. Neurons were identified by their antidromic activation from contralateral facial and accessory abducens nuclei and by their synaptic activation from the ipsilateral motor cortex (MC) and the contralateral cerebellar interpositus (IP) nucleus. For conditioning, we used a tone as a conditioned stimulus (CS) followed 250 ms later by a 100 ms air puff as an unconditioned stimulus (US) coterminating with it. Conditioned responses (CRs) were determined from the evoked changes in the electromyographic activity of the orbicularis oculi (OO) muscle. Recorded neurons were classified by their antidromic activation and by their changes in firing rate during the CS-US interval. Identified neurons increased their firing rates in relation to the successive conditioning sessions, but their discharge rates were related more to the EMG activity of the OO muscle than to the learning curves. Reversible inactivation of the IP nucleus with lidocaine during conditioning evoked a complete disappearance of both conditioned and unconditioned eyelid responses, and a progressive decrease in CR-related activity of RN neurons. In contrast, MC inactivation evoked a decrease in the acquisition process and an initial disfacilitation of neuronal firing (which was later recovered), together with the late appearance of CRs. Thus, RN neurons presented learning-dependent changes in activity following MC inactivation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Eyelid / physiology*
  • Learning Curve
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rabbits
  • Random Allocation
  • Red Nucleus / physiology*