Visual cortical contributions to associative cerebellar learning

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Abstract

Eye-blink conditioning (EBC) is a form of associative learning that depends on the cerebellum. Previous reports suggested that sensory cortex is necessary for trace EBC but not for delay EBC. The trace and delay EBC procedures used in these studies differed by the presence or absence of a temporal gap between the end of the conditioned stimulus and the onset of the unconditioned stimulus (trace interval) and in the interval between the onset of the CS and the US (inter-stimulus interval, ISI). The current study examined the role of the visual cortex in delay, long-delay, and trace EBC, matching CS duration and inter-stimulus interval between groups. In Experiment 1, extensive removal of the visual cortex impaired acquisition of long-delay and trace EBC but had no effect on delay EBC. In Experiment 2, bilateral inactivation of the visual cortex impaired acquisition and retention of long-delay and trace EBC, but had no effect on delay EBC. In Experiment 3, unilateral inactivation of the visual cortex impaired long-delay EBC but had no effect on trace EBC. The results indicate that the visual cortex facilitates EBC with relatively long ISIs, regardless of whether there is a trace interval or not. Moreover, the ipsilateral projections from the visual cortex to the pontine nuclei are sufficient for modulating long-delay EBC, whereas trace EBC involves bilateral visual cortical interactions with forebrain systems including the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

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