The pedunculopontine tegmentum (PPTg) plays a role in processing multiple sensory inputs and innervates brain regions associated with reward-related behaviors. The urotensin II receptor, activated by the urotensin II peptide (UII), is selectively expressed by the cholinergic neurons of the PPTg. Although the exact function of cholinergic neurons of the PPTg is unknown, they are thought to contribute to the perception of reward magnitude or salience detection. We hypothesized that the activation of PPTg cholinergic neurons would alter sensory processing across multiple modalities (ex. taste and hearing). Here we had three aims: first, determine if cholinergic activation is involved in consumption behavior of palatable solutions (sucrose). Second, if so, distinguish the impact of the caloric value by using saccharin, a zero calorie sweetener. Lastly, we tested the UII-mediated effects on perception of acoustic stimuli by measuring acoustic startle reflex (ASR). Male Sprague-Dawley rats were bilaterally cannulated into the PPTg, then placed under food restriction lasting the entire consumption experiment (water ad lib.). Treatment consisted of a microinjection of either 1 μL of aCSF or 1 μL of 10 μM UII into the PPTg, and the rats were immediately given access to either sucrose or saccharin. For the remaining five days, rats were allowed one hour access per day to the same sweet solution without any further treatments. During the saccharin experiment rats were tested in a contact lickometer which recorded each individual lick to give insight into the microstructure of the consumption behavior. ASR testing consisted of a baseline (no treatment), treatment day, and two additional days (no treatment). Immediately following the microinjection of UII, consumption of both saccharin and sucrose increased compared to controls. This significant increase persisted for days after the single administration of UII, but there was no generalized arousal or increase in water consumption between testing sessions. The effects on ASR were not significant. Activating cholinergic PPTg neurons may lead to a miscalculation of the salience of external stimuli, implicating the importance of cholinergic input in modulating a variety of behaviors. The long-lasting effects seen after UII treatment support further research into the role of sensory processing on reward related-behaviors at the level of the PPTg cholinergic neurons.
Keywords: Cholinergic; Pedunculopontine tegmentum; Sensory processing; Urotensin II.
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