Partial Lesion of the Nigrostriatal Dopamine Pathway in Rats Impairs Egocentric Learning but Not Spatial Learning or Behavioral Flexibility

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Degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system in Parkinson’s disease (PD) causes motor dysfunction and cognitive impairment, but the etiology of the cognitive deficits remains unclear. The present study investigated the behavioral effects of partial lesions of the nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) pathway. Rats received bilateral infusions of either 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) or vehicle into the dorsolateral striatum and were tested in spatial and procedural learning tasks. Compared with intact rats, DA-depleted rats were impaired when the first task they learned required egocentric responses. Intact rats that received prior training on a spatial task were impaired while learning a subsequent body-turn task, suggesting that prior spatial training may compete with egocentric learning in intact but not DA-depleted rats. Spatial discrimination, reversal learning, and switching between allocentric and egocentric strategies were similar in both groups. The results suggest that DA loss that is not associated with gross motor pathology temporarily impairs egocentric, but not allocentric, learning or subsequent behavioral flexibility.

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