Acute stress, but not corticosterone, facilitates acquisition of paired associates learning in rats using touchscreen-equipped operant conditioning chambers

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HighlightsThe effects of acute stress on paired associates learning were assessed.Acute restraint stress persistently improved task acquisition in rats.Corticosterone injection had no effect on task performance.Acute stress may facilitate the use of striatal learning in the paired associates task.Acute stress influences learning and memory in humans and rodents, enhancing performance in some tasks while impairing it in others. Typically, subjects preferentially employ striatal-mediated stimulus-response strategies in spatial memory tasks following stress, making use of fewer hippocampal-based strategies which may be more cognitively demanding. Previous research demonstrated that the acquisition of rodent paired associates learning (PAL) relies primarily on the striatum, while task performance after extensive training is impaired by hippocampal disruption. Therefore, we sought to explore whether the acquisition of PAL, an operant conditioning task involving spatial stimuli, could be enhanced by acute stress. Male Long-Evans rats were trained to a predefined criterion in PAL and then subjected to either a single session of restraint stress (30 min) or injection of corticosterone (CORT; 3 mg/kg). Subsequent task performance was monitored for one week. We found that rats subjected to restraint stress, but not those rats injected with CORT, performed with higher accuracy and efficiency, when compared to untreated controls. These results suggest that while acute stress enhances the acquisition of PAL, CORT alone does not. This dissociation may be due to differences between these treatments and their ability to produce sufficient catecholamine release in the amygdala, a requirement for stress effects on memory.

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