Do the rat anterior thalamic nuclei contribute to behavioural flexibility?

Lisa Kinnavane, Eman Amin, John P Aggleton, Andrew J D Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The rodent anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN) are vital for spatial memory. A consideration of their extensive frontal connections suggests that these nuclei may also subserve non-spatial functions. The current experiments explored the importance of the ATN for different aspects of behavioural flexibility, including their contribution to tasks typically associated with frontal cortex. In Experiment 1, rats with ATN lesions were tested on a series of response and visual discriminations in an operant box and, subsequently, in a water tank. The tasks included assessments of reversal learning as well switches between each discrimination dimension. Results revealed a mild and transient deficit on the operant task that was not specific to any stage of the procedure. In the water tank, the lesion animals were impaired on the reversal of a spatial discrimination but did not differ from controls on any other measure. Experiment 2 examined the impact of ATN damage on a rodent analogue of the 'Stroop', which assesses response choice during stimulus conflict. The lesion animals successfully acquired this task and were able to use contextual information to disambiguate conflicting cue information. However, responding during the initial presentation of conflicting cue information was affected by the lesion. Taken together, these results suggest that the ATN are not required for aspects of behavioural flexibility (discrimination learning, reversals or high-order switches) typically associated with the rat medial prefrontal cortex. The results from Experiment 2 suggest that the non-spatial functions of the ATN may be more aligned with those of the anterior cingulate cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-549
Number of pages14
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Animals
  • Anterior Thalamic Nuclei/pathology
  • Auditory Perception/physiology
  • Choice Behavior/physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Discrimination Learning/physiology
  • Executive Function/physiology
  • Ibotenic Acid
  • Male
  • Maze Learning/physiology
  • Motor Activity/physiology
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Neurotoxins
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Reversal Learning/physiology
  • Spatial Behavior/physiology
  • Visual Perception/physiology


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