Bilateral lesions of the subthalamic nucleus induce multiple deficits in an attentional task in rats

Eur J Neurosci. 1997 Oct;9(10):2086-99. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.1997.tb01376.x.


Lesioning the subthalamic nucleus (STN) has been suggested as possible therapy for the treatment of parkinsonism. Previous experiments investigating this hypothesis in rats confirmed that excitotoxic STN lesions alleviate the motor impairment induced by striatal dopamine depletion, which reproduced the degeneration observed in parkinsonism, but elicited presumed non-motor deficits such as premature responding, suggesting that the STN could be involved in other aspects of response control. The aim of the present study was to extend this analysis to choice paradigms. We thus investigated the behavioural effects of bilateral excitotoxic lesions of the STN in rats performing a five-choice test of divided and sustained visual attention, modelled on the human continuous performance task. This task required the animals to detect a brief visual stimulus presented in one of five possible locations and respond by a nose-poke in this illuminated hole within a fixed delay, for food reinforcement. Bilateral lesions of the STN severely impaired several aspects of performance, including discriminative accuracy, but also increased premature, anticipatory responding as well as perseverative panel pushes and nose-poke responses. While increasing the stimulus duration and reducing the waiting period for the stimulus partially alleviated the accuracy deficit and the premature responding deficit respectively, other deficits, such as perseverative panel pushes and nose-poke responses, were sustained under these conditions. Systemic injection of the mixed dopaminergic D1/D2 receptor antagonist, alpha-flupenthixol (0.03-0.18 mg/kg), reduced premature responses and perseverative panel pushing without affecting the perseverative nose-poke responses, suggesting that some of the deficits were independent of striatal dopaminergic transmission. These results suggest that STN lesions have multiple, dissociable effects on attentional performance, including discriminative deficits, impulsivity and perseverative behaviour. They are consistent in part with a hypothesized role of the STN in recent models of basal ganglia function in action selection and inhibition. The results also show that other aspects of behaviour should be monitored when examining the capacity of STN lesions to reverse the parkinsonian deficit induced by striatal dopamine depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Flupenthixol / pharmacology
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Space Perception
  • Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*


  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Flupenthixol