Amygdala central nucleus modulation of cerebellar learning with a visual conditioned stimulus

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HIGHLIGHTSThe central amygdala (CeA) is crucial for cerebellar learning with visual stimuli.CeA input modulates, but is not necessary for, cerebellar learning.CeA modulation of the cerebellum occurs through a projection to the basilar pons.The CeA modulates motor learning by facilitating sensory input to the cerebellum.Previous studies found that reversible inactivation of the central amygdala (CeA) severely impairs acquisition and retention of cerebellum-dependent eye-blink conditioning (EBC) with an auditory conditioned stimulus (CS). A monosynaptic pathway between the CeA and basilar pontine nuclei (BPN) may be capable of facilitating cerebellar learning. However, given that the CeA projects to the medial auditory thalamus, a critical part of the auditory CS pathway in EBC, the CeA influence on cerebellar learning could be specific to auditory stimuli. Here we examined the generality of CeA facilitation of EBC acquisition and retention in rats using a visual CS. As in our previous studies using an auditory CS, inactivation of the CeA with muscimol severely impaired acquisition and retention of EBC with a visual CS. Extending training to 15 100-trial sessions resulted in acquisition of EBC, indicating that the CeA plays a modulatory role in cerebellar learning and is not part of the necessary neural circuitry for EBC. Tract-tracing experiments verified that axons from the CeA reach both the BPN and medial auditory thalamus (part of the necessary auditory CS pathway), but were not found in the ventral lateral geniculate (part of the necessary visual CS pathway). The neuroanatomical results suggest that the CeA most likely modulates cerebellar learning through its projection to the BPN. The findings of the current study are consistent with the hypothesis that the CeA modulates cerebellar learning by increasing CS-related sensory input to the cerebellar cortex and interpositus nucleus via the BPN. This increase in CS-related input is thought to constitute an increase in attention to the CS during EBC.

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