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Brain Res Dev Brain Res. 1991 Jun 21;60(2):219-28.

Norepinephrine-induced plasticity and one-trial olfactory learning in neonatal rats.

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  • 1Department of Psychobiology, University of California, Irvine 92717.


The influence of norepinephrine (NE) on the acquisition of a conditioned odor preference and enhanced focal uptake of [14C]2-deoxyglucose (2-DG) within the olfactory bulb was assessed in neonatal rat pups. On postnatal day (PN) 6, pups were injected with either an NE receptor agonist (isoproterenol), NE receptor antagonist (propranolol or timolol), or saline before one-trial odor conditioning. The experimental conditioning group received a 10-min exposure to an odor (peppermint) and reinforcing tactile stimulation similar to that received from the dam. Control groups received only the odor, only the tactile stimulation, backwards presentation of the odor and tactile stimulation or neither of these stimuli. The next day, pups were either tested for an olfactory preference (Expts. 1 and 2) or assessed for differential olfactory bulb activity using the 2-DG technique (Expt. 3). The results indicate that early odor experience with either tactile stimulation or isoproterenol is sufficient to produce a learned behavioral preference and enhanced focal 2-DG uptake within the olfactory bulb. Moreover, an NE receptor blocker injected prior to training with odor and tactile stimulation blocks the acquisition of both behavioral preference and the enhanced 2-DG uptake. In Expt. 4, the effects of tactile stimulation and isoproterenol were further assessed. An odor paired with a moderate level of either of these stimuli produces learning. However, the simultaneous presentation of a moderate level of these stimuli paired with an odor does not result in an odor preference. An odor preference may be reinstated by simultaneous presentation of these stimuli, provided the level of each of these stimuli is too low to produce an odor preference when presented alone with an odor. These data suggest that exogenous NE and tactile stimulation are additive in their effect on learning. These results are discussed in terms of the neural mechanisms underlying reinforcement in infant rats.

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