Tone Identification Behavior in Rattus Norvegicus: Muscarinic Receptor Blockage Lowers Responsiveness in Nontarget Selective Neurons, While Nicotinic Receptor Blockage Selectively Lowers Target Responses

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Jul;46(2):1779-1789. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13611. Epub 2017 Jul 7.


Learning to associate a stimulus with reinforcement causes plasticity in primary sensory cortex. Neural activity caused by the associated stimulus is paired with reinforcement, but population analyses have not found a selective increase in response to that stimulus. Responses to other stimuli increase as much as, or more than, responses to the associated stimulus. Here, we applied population analysis at a new time point and additionally evaluated whether cholinergic receptor blockers interacted with the plastic changes in cortex. Three days of tone identification behavior caused responsiveness to increase broadly across primary auditory cortex, and target responses strengthened less than overall responsiveness. In pharmacology studies, behaviorally impairing doses of selective acetylcholine receptor blockers were administered during behavior. Neural responses were evaluated on the following day, while the blockers were absent. The muscarinic group, blocked by scopolamine, showed lower responsiveness and an increased response to the tone identification target that exceeded both the 3-day control group and task-naïve controls. Also, a selective increase in the late phase of the response to the tone identification stimulus emerged. Nicotinic receptor antagonism, with mecamylamine, more modestly lowered responses the following day and lowered target responses more than overall responses. Control acute studies demonstrated the muscarinic block did not acutely alter response rates, but the nicotinic block did. These results lead to the hypothesis that the decrease in the proportion of the population spiking response that is selective for the target may be explained by the balance between effects modulated by muscarinic and nicotinic receptors.

Keywords: acetylcholine; auditory cortex; electrophysiology; rat.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / drug effects
  • Auditory Cortex / metabolism*
  • Auditory Perception / drug effects
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Male
  • Mecamylamine / pharmacology
  • Microelectrodes
  • Muscarinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / drug effects
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology


  • Muscarinic Antagonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Mecamylamine
  • Scopolamine