Cholinergic facilitation of trace eyeblink conditioning in aging rabbits

John F. Disterhoft*, Michelle Kronforst-Collins, M. Matthew Oh, John M. Power, Alison R. Preston, Craig Weiss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The hippocampus is importantly involved in learning and memory, and is severely impacted by aging. In in vitro hippocampal slices, both the post- burst after hyperpolarization (AHP) and spike-frequency accommodation are reduced in hippocampal pyramidal neurons after hippocampally-dependent trace eyeblink conditioning, indications of increased cellular excitability. The AHP results from the activation of outward potassium currents, including sI(AHP) and muscarine-sensitive I(M). The AHP is significantly increased in aging hippocampal neurons, potentially contributing to age-associated learning deficits. Compounds which reduce the AHP and spike-frequency accommodation could facilitate learning in normal aging or in age-associated dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. The cholinesterase inhibitor metrifonate enhances trace eyeblink conditioning by aging rabbits and reduces the AHP and accommodation in hippocampal CA1 neurons in a dose-dependent manner. These reductions are mediated by muscarinic cholinergic transmission as they are blocked by atropine. Hippocampal neurons from metrifonate treated but behaviorally naive rabbits were more excitable and not desensitized to the effects of metrifonate since the AHP and accommodation were further reduced when metrifonate was bath applied to the neurons. These observations suggest that the facilitating effect of chronic metrifonate on acquisition of hippocampally dependent tasks is mediated at least partially by increasing the baseline excitability of CA1 pyramidal neurons. The issue of whether learning can be facilitated with muscarinic cholinergic agonists, in addition to cholinesterase inhibitors, was addressed by training aging rabbits during intravenous treatment with the M1 agonist CI1017. A dose-dependent enhancement of acquisition was observed, with rabbits receiving 1.0 or 5.0 mg/ml CI1017 showing comparably improved learning rates as those receiving 0.5 mg/ml or vehicle. Sympathetic side effects, mainly excess salivation, were seen with the 5.0 mg/ml dose. Post-training evaluations suggested that the effective doses of CI1017 were enhancing responsivity to the tone conditioned stimulus. These studies suggest that muscarinic cholinergic neurotransmission is importantly involved in associative learning; that learning in aging animals may be facilitated by enhancing cholinergic transmission; and that the facilitation may be mediated through actions on hippocampal neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-548
Number of pages8
JournalLife Sciences
Issue number6-7
StatePublished - Jan 8 1999


  • Acetylcholine
  • Afterhyperpolarization
  • Aging
  • Hippocampus
  • Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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