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Behav Cogn Neurosci Rev. 2006 Dec;5(4):191-239.

Instrumental learning within the spinal cord: underlying mechanisms and implications for recovery after injury.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4235, USA.


Using spinally transected rats, research has shown that neurons within the L4-S2 spinal cord are sensitive to response-outcome (instrumental) relations. This learning depends on a form of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-mediated plasticity. Instrumental training enables subsequent learning, and this effect has been linked to the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Rats given uncontrollable stimulation later exhibit impaired instrumental learning, and this deficit lasts up to 48 hr. The induction of the deficit can be blocked by prior training with controllable shock, the concurrent presentation of a tonic stimulus that induces antinociception, or pretreatment with an NMDA or gamma-aminobutyric acid-A antagonist. The expression of the deficit depends on a kappa opioid. Uncontrollable stimulation enhances mechanical reactivity (allodynia), and treatments that induce allodynia (e.g., inflammation) inhibit learning. In intact animals, descending serotonergic neurons exert a protective effect that blocks the adverse consequences of uncontrollable stimulation. Uncontrollable, but not controllable, stimulation impairs the recovery of function after a contusion injury.

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