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Open Access Research article

The pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus and the nucleus basalis magnocellularis: Do both have a role in sustained attention?

Claire L Rostron1*, Morag J Farquhar2, Mary P Latimer2 and Philip Winn2

Author affiliations

1 Life Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, UK

2 School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, St Mary's College, South Street, St Andrews, KY16 9JU, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-16

Published: 30 January 2008

Abstract

Background

It is well established that nucleus basalis magnocellularis (NbM) lesions impair performance on tests of sustained attention. Previous work from this laboratory has also demonstrated that pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPTg) lesioned rats make more omissions on a test of sustained attention, suggesting that it might also play a role in mediating this function. However, the results of the PPTg study were open to alternative interpretation. We aimed to resolve this by conducting a detailed analysis of the effects of damage to each brain region in the same sustained attention task used in our previous work. Rats were trained in the task before surgery and post-surgical testing examined performance in response to unpredictable light signals of 1500 ms and 4000 ms duration. Data for PPTg lesioned rats were compared to control rats, and rats with 192 IgG saporin infusions centred on the NbM. In addition to operant data, video data of rats' performance during the task were also analysed.

Results

Both lesion groups omitted trials relative to controls but the effect was milder and transient in NbM rats. The number of omitted trials decreased in all groups when tested using the 4000 ms signal compared to the 1500 ms signal. This confirmed previous findings for PPTg lesioned rats. Detailed analysis revealed that the increase in omissions in PPTg rats was not a consequence of motor impairment. The video data (taken on selected days) showed reduced lever orientation in PPTg lesioned rats, coupled with an increase in unconditioned behaviours such as rearing and sniffing. In contrast NbM rats showed evidence of inadequate lever pressing.

Conclusion

The question addressed here is whether the PPTg and NbM both have a role in sustained attention. Rats bearing lesions of either structure showed deficits in the test used. However, we conclude that the most parsimonious explanation for the deficit observed in PPTg rats is inadequate response organization, rather than impairment in sustained attention. Furthermore the impairment observed in NbM lesioned rats included lever pressing difficulties in addition to impaired sustained attention. Unfortunately we could not link these deficits directly to cholinergic neuronal loss.