Norepinephrine and learning-induced plasticity in infant rat olfactory system

J Neurosci. 1989 Nov;9(11):3998-4006. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.09-11-03998.1989.


Postnatal olfactory learning produces both a conditioned behavioral response and a modified olfactory bulb neural response to the learned odor. The present report describes the role of norepinephrine (NE) on both of these learned responses in neonatal rat pups. Pups received olfactory classical conditioning training from postnatal days (PN) 1-18. Training consisted of 18 trials with an intertrial interval of 24 hr. For the experimental group, a trial consisted of a pairing of unconditioned stimulus (UCS, stroking/tactile stimulation) and the conditioned stimulus (CS, odor). Control groups received either only the CS (Odor only) or only the UCS (Stroke only). Within each training condition, pups were injected with either the NE beta-receptor agonist isoproterenol (1, 20, or 4 mg/kg), the NE beta-receptor antagonist propranolol (10, 20, 40 mg/kg), or saline 30 min prior to training. On day 20, pups received one of the following tests: (1) behavioral conditioned responding, (2) injection with 14C-2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) and exposed to the CS odor, or (3) tested for olfactory bulb mitral/tufted cell single-unit responses to the CS odor. The results indicated that training with either: (1) Odor-Stroke-Saline, (2) Odor-Stroke-Isoproterenol-Propranolol, or (3) Odor only-Isoproterenol (2 mg/kg) was sufficient to produce a learned behavioral odor preference, enhanced uptake of 14C-2-DG in the odor-specific foci within the bulb, and a modified output signal from the bulb as measured by single-cell recordings of mitral/tufted cells. Moreover, propranolol injected prior to Odor-Stroke training blocked the acquisition of both the learned behavior and olfactory bulb responses. Thus, NE is sufficient and may be necessary for the acquisition of both learned olfactory behavior and olfactory bulb responses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical* / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Handling, Psychological
  • Isoproterenol / pharmacology*
  • Learning* / drug effects
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Odorants*
  • Olfactory Bulb / drug effects
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Propranolol / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Propranolol
  • Isoproterenol
  • Norepinephrine