Nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the rat prefrontal cortex: differential roles in working memory, response selection and effortful processing

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1995 May;119(2):139-44. doi: 10.1007/BF02246154.


The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effects of cholinergic receptor blockade in the rat prefrontal cortex on cognitive processes. The nicotinic antagonists neuronal bungarotoxin and dihydro-beta-erythroidine and the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine were injected into the prelimbic area of the prefrontal cortex. Their behavioural effects were assessed in a T-maze to test reference memory (visual discrimination task) and working memory in delayed matching (MTS) and non-matching to sample (NMTS) tasks. Neuronal bungarotoxin produced a significant decrease in working memory performance in the MTS task but not in the NMTS task. In contrast, scopolamine impaired working memory in both MTS and NMTS tasks. Reference memory was not altered by any of the cholinergic antagonists. These results demonstrate a differential role of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors in the rat prefrontal cortex. Nicotinic transmission appears to be important in delayed response tasks requiring effortful processing for response selection, while the muscarinic system is involved in general working memory processes.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Bungarotoxins / pharmacology
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects*
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Scopolamine / pharmacology
  • Sodium Chloride


  • Bungarotoxins
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Scopolamine
  • Acetylcholine