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Effects of lesioning noradrenergic neurones in the locus coeruleus on conditioned and unconditioned aversive behaviour in the rat.

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  • 1School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham Medical School, Queen's Medical Centre, UK.


1. The brain noradrenergic system may have a role in anxiety disorder. This study has examined the effect of bilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the noradrenergic neurones in the locus coeruleus (LC) of male Lister hooded rats on behaviour produced by unconditioned and conditioned aversive stimuli. 2. The 6-hydroxydopamine (4 microg) lesions markedly reduced the noradrenaline content of the locus coeruleus hypothalamus, frontal cortex and the periaqueductal grey area without altering the levels of either dopamine or 5-hydroxytryptamine measured 14 days after administration. 3. Exposure to ultrasound (20 kHz at 98 dB for 60 sec), an unconditioned aversive stimulus, induced a defence response in the rats characterised by an increase in activity (running and jumping) followed by a period of inactivity (freezing). 4. Lesioning of the LC significantly attenuated the duration of freezing but was without effect on the active phase of the response. A similar reduction in freezing behaviour was seen with LC lesions when rats were exposed (3 hours after the acquisition) to the contextual cue of the conditioned emotion response paradigm. 5. These findings confirm that the locus coeruleus is involved in the regulation of fear-related behaviour in the rat both in an unconditioned and a conditioned model. Furthermore the results indicate that noradrenaline modifies defence behaviour rather than being the principle activating mechanism.

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