The Lateral Habenula as a Relay of Cortical Information to Process Working Memory

Cereb Cortex. 2017 Dec 1;27(12):5485-5495. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw316.


Working memory is a cognitive ability allowing the temporary storage of information to solve problems or adjust behavior. While working memory is known to mainly depend on the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), very few is known about how cortical information are relayed subcortically. By its connectivity, the lateral habenula (lHb) might act as a subcortical relay for cortical information. Indeed, the lHb receives inputs from several mPFC subregions, and recent findings suggest a role for the lHb in online processing of spatial information, a fundamental aspect of working memory. In rats, in a delayed non-matching to position paradigm, using focal microinjections of the GABAA agonist muscimol we showed that inactivation of the lHb (16 ng in 0.2 µL per side), as well as disconnection between the prelimbic region of the mPFC (mPFC/PrL, 32 ng in 0.4 µL in one hemisphere) and the lHb (16 ng in 0.2 µL in the lHb in the contralateral hemisphere) impaired working memory. The deficits were unlikely to result from motivational or motor deficits as muscimol did not affect reward collection or cue responding latencies, and did not increase the number of omissions. These results show for the first time the implication of the lHb in mPFC-dependent memory processes, likely as a relay of mPFC/PrL information. They also open new perspectives in the understanding of the top-down processing of high-level cognitive functions.

Keywords: disconnection; lateral habenula; prefrontal cortex; rat; working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Habenula / drug effects
  • Habenula / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Microinjections
  • Motivation / drug effects
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward


  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Muscimol