Aluminum-Induced Neurofibrillary Degeneration Disrupts Acquisition of the Rabbit's Classically Conditioned Nictitating Membrane Response

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Rabbits received intraventricular injections of aluminum chloride, hydrochloric acid, or served as unoperated controls. On the 6th day postsurgery, they underwent 4 days (100 trials per day) of classical conditioning of the nictitating membrane response (NMR) to a tone conditioned stimulus and an air-puff unconditioned stimulus. Unoperated and hydrochloric acid control animals readily acquired the conditioned response. Aluminum intoxicated rabbits, in contrast, did not acquire the conditioned response over the 4 days of testing. This disruption of conditioning in aluminum-treated rabbits could not be attributed to deficits in sensory or motor processes or to illness. Neuropathological analysis revealed widespread neurofibrillary tangle formation in aluminum-treated animals. Furthermore, the degree of neurofibrillary degeneration was significantly negatively correlated with the degree of conditioning. The results are considered in the context of using the rabbit NMR preparation as a model system for studying age-related conditioning disorders.

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