Cholinergic Blockade in the Rat Impairs Strategy Selection but Not Learning and Retention of Nonspatial Visual Discrimination Problems in a Swimming Pool

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A procedure was developed to study black versus white and horizontal versus vertical pattern visual discriminations in a swimming pool. The effects of central cholinergic muscarinic receptor blockade by atropine sulfate was then evaluated. The drug treatment impaired acquisition but not retention. Behavioral observations showed that the control rats used a number of strategies during the process of problem solving that facilitated acquisition of the discrimination. Through modifications of training procedures, the processes of strategy selection and discrimination learning were dissociated. Cholinergic blockade was found to impair strategy selection but not discrimination learning. The results question the widely held view that cholinergic systems are involved in learning and memory and suggest instead that cholinergic systems are involved in the selection of the movements or strategies that are prerequisite for learning.

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