Prefrontal cholinergic mechanisms instigating shifts from monitoring for cues to cue-guided performance: converging electrochemical and fMRI evidence from rats and humans

J Neurosci. 2013 May 15;33(20):8742-52. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5809-12.2013.


We previously reported involvement of right prefrontal cholinergic activity in veridical signal detection. Here, we first recorded real-time acetylcholine release in prefrontal cortex (PFC) during specific trial sequences in rats performing a task requiring signal detection as well as rejection of nonsignal events. Cholinergic release events recorded with subsecond resolution ("transients") were observed only during signal-hit trials, not during signal-miss trials or nonsignal events. Moreover, cholinergic transients were not observed for consecutive hits; instead they were limited to signal-hit trials that were preceded by factual or perceived nonsignal events ("incongruent hits"). This finding suggests that these transients mediate shifts from a state of perceptual attention, or monitoring for cues, to cue-evoked activation of response rules and the generation of a cue-directed response. Next, to determine the translational significance of the cognitive operations supporting incongruent hits we used a version of the task previously validated for use in research in humans and blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD)-functional magnetic resonance imaging. Incongruent hits activated a region in the right rostral PFC (Brodmann area 10). Furthermore, greater prefrontal activation was correlated with faster response times for incongruent hits. Finally, we measured tissue oxygen in rats, as a proxy for BOLD, and found prefrontal increases in oxygen levels solely during incongruent hits. These cross-species studies link a cholinergic response to a prefrontal BOLD activation and indicate that these interrelated mechanisms mediate the integration of external cues with internal representations to initiate and guide behavior.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Choline / metabolism
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / blood supply*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Choline
  • Acetylcholine
  • Oxygen