Conditioned responses of monkey locus coeruleus neurons anticipate acquisition of discriminative behavior in a vigilance task

Neuroscience. 1997 Oct;80(3):697-715. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(97)00060-2.


Impulse activity was recorded extracellularly from noradrenergic neurons in the nucleus locus coeruleus of three cynomolgus monkeys performing a visual discrimination (vigilance) task. For juice reward, the subjects were required to release a lever rapidly in response to an improbable target stimulus (20% of trials) that was randomly intermixed with non-target stimuli presented on a video display. All locus coeruleus neurons examined were phasically and selectively activated by target stimuli in this task. Other task events elicited no consistent response from these neurons (juice reward, lever release, fix spot stimuli, non-target stimuli). With reversal of the task contingency, locus coeruleus neurons ceased responding to the former target stimuli, and began responding instead to the new target (old non-target) stimuli. In addition, the latency of locus coeruleus response to target stimuli increased after reversal (by about 140 ms) in parallel with a similar increase in the latency of the behavioral response. These results indicate that the conditioned locus coeruleus responses reflect stimulus meaning and cognitive processing, and are not driven by physical sensors attributes. Notably, the reversal in locus coeruleus response to stimuli after task reversal occurred rapidly, hundreds of trials before reversal was expressed in behavioral responses. These findings indicate that conditioned responses of locus coeruleus neurons are plastic and easily altered by changes in stimulus meaning, and that the locus coeruleus may play an active role in learning the significance of behaviorally important stimuli.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Locus Coeruleus / cytology
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology*
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward