Noradrenergic, but not cholinergic, deafferentation of prefrontal cortex impairs attentional set-shifting

Date Published:

2008 Apr 22

Abstract:

Both norepinephrine and acetylcholine have been shown to be critically involved in mediating attention but there remains debate about whether they serve similar or unique functions. Much of what is known about the role of these neurochemicals in cognition is based on manipulations done at the level of the cell body but these findings are difficult to reconcile with data regarding the unique contribution of cortical subregions, e.g. the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, to attention. In the current study, we directly compared the effects of noradrenergic and cholinergic deafferentation of the rat medial prefrontal cortex, the homologue of primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, using an intradimensional/extradimensional attentional set shifting task, a task previously shown to be able to dissociate the function of the primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex from orbitofrontal cortex. We found that noradrenergic, but not cholinergic, deafferentation produces specific impairments in the ability to shift attentional set. We also clarified the nature of the attentional deficits by assessing the ability of rats to disregard irrelevant stimuli. Noradrenergic lesions did not alter the ability of rats to ignore irrelevant stimuli, suggesting that the attentional deficit results from an overly focused attentional state that retards learning that a new stimulus dimension predicts reward.