The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Cholinergic contributions to supramodal attentional processes in rats.

PMID 24501365


Cholinergic neurotransmission has been shown to play an important role in modulating attentional processing of visual stimuli. However, it is not yet clear whether the neurochemical acetylcholine (ACh) is necessary exclusively for visual attention, or if it also contributes to attentional functions through some modality-independent (supramodal) mechanism. To answer this question, we examined the effects of reduced cortical cholinergic afferentation on both a traditional visual and a novel olfactory five-choice serial reaction time task (5-CSRTT), the benchmark rodent test of sustained attention in rats. Following the successful acquisition of both modalities of the task, the rats underwent either a cholinergic immunotoxic- or sham-lesion surgery of the nucleus basalis magnocellularis (NBM), the basal forebrain nuclei that provide the majority of neocortical ACh. Reduced cholinergic afferentation to the neocortex was induced by bilaterally infusing the cholinergic immunotoxin 192 IgG-saporin into the NBM. After surgery, ACh-NBM-lesioned rats performed comparably to sham-lesioned rats under the conditions of low attentional demand, but displayed behavioral decrements relative to the sham-lesioned rats when the attentional demands of the task were increased. Moreover, this decrement in attentional functioning correlated significantly with the number of choline acetyltransferase-immunoreactive cells in the NBM. Importantly, the nature of this behavioral decrement was identical in the visual and olfactory 5-CSRTTs. Together, these data suggest the presence of a supramodal attentional modulatory cortical network whose activity is dependent on cholinergic innervation from the NBM.