Scopolamine and Pavlovian fear conditioning in rats: dose-effect analysis.
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Muscarinic-cholinergic antagonism produces learning and memory deficits in a wide variety of hippocampal-dependent tasks. Hippocampal lesions produce both acquisition deficits and retrograde amnesia of contextual fear (fear of the place of conditioning), but do not impact fear conditioning to discrete cues (such as a tone). In order to examine the effects of muscarinic antagonism in this paradigm, rats were given 0.01 to 100 mg/kg of scopolamine (or methylscopolamine) either before or after a fear conditioning session in which tones were paired with aversive footshocks. Fear to the context and the tone were assessed by measuring freezing in separate tests. It was found that pretraining, but not post-training, scopolamine severely impaired fear conditioning; methylscopolamine was ineffective in disrupting conditioning. Although contextual fear conditioning was more sensitive to cholinergic disruption, high doses of scopolamine also disrupted tone conditioning. Scopolamine did not affect footshock reactivity, but did produce high levels of activity. However, hyperactivity was not directly responsible for deficits in conditioning. It was concluded that scopolamine disrupts CS-US association formation or CS processing, perhaps through an attenuation of hippocampal theta rhythm.