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J Neurosci. 2005 Mar 2;25(9):2322-9.

Noradrenaline and dopamine elevations in the rat prefrontal cortex in spatial working memory.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience and Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche Institute of Neuroscience, University of Cagliari, 09042 Monserrato, Italy.


The role of prefrontal cortical dopamine (DA) in the modulation of working memory functions is well documented, but substantial evidence indicates that the locus ceruleus noradrenergic system also modulates working memory via actions within the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This study shows that PFC noradrenaline (NA) and DA dialysate levels phasically increase when rats perform correctly in a delayed alternation task in a T-maze, a test of spatial working memory. However, NA levels were markedly enhanced in animals trained to alternate compared with rats that acquired the spatial information about the location of food in the maze but were untrained to make a choice to obtain the reward. In contrast, PFC DA elevations occurred independently of whether the animal had acquired the trial-specific information for correct task execution. The contribution of anticipatory responses to catecholamine efflux was also evaluated by exposing rats to an environment signaling the presence of the reward in the successive alternation task. No conditioned NA efflux was observed in either group. In contrast, in both groups, DA efflux increased in the anticipatory phase of the test to the same levels of those reached during the task. These data provide the first direct evidence for a selective activation of PFC NA transmission during a spatial working memory task. We propose that, in the working memory task, DA is primarily associated with reward expectancy, whereas NA is involved in the active maintenance of the information about a goal and the rules to achieve it.

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