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Exp Neurol. 2002 Mar;174(1):96-108.

Facilitation of dopamine-mediated locomotor activity in adult rats following cholinergic denervation.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


The dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia postulates hyperactivity of dopaminergic neurotransmission in the mesolimbic system. However, the possible underlying causes for this dopaminergic overfunction are not well understood. Therefore, the main aim of this study was to examine the effect of central cholinergic denervation on dopamine-mediated functions. We also examined the effect of neonatal cholinergic denervation upon adult brain function. The immunotoxin 192 IgG-saporin causes severe lesions of the basal forebrain cholinergic system when infused into the lateral ventricles by targeting neurons expressing the p75 neurotrophin receptor. The toxin may also damage p75-expressing Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum. We have compared the behavioral effects of intracerebroventricular injections of 192 IgG-saporin to adult rats with that of injections to neonate rats. As expected, adult treated rats displayed an almost complete cholinergic denervation of forebrain corticohippocampal areas concomitant with a marked impairment in the Morris water maze. When tested as adults, neonatally treated animals had a less complete cholinergic denervation and showed lesser impairments in water maze behaviors. Interestingly, adult treated rats showed increased spontaneous horizontal activity and a remarkable increase in locomotor response to d-amphetamine as evidenced by increased horizontal and vertical activity. There were no marked changes of spontaneous or drug-induced locomotor activity in adult rats treated with 192 IgG-saporin as neonates. These results suggest that cholinergic denervation of the forebrain causes a marked enhancement of behavioral responses related to dopaminergic activity, probably mainly mediated presynaptically. However, it cannot be fully excluded that damage to noncholinergic systems, e.g., Purkinje cells, might contribute to the effects. The striking overreaction to dopaminergic stimuli, presumably caused by the cholinergic deficit, is discussed in relation to the suggested role of cholinergic malfunctioning in schizophrenia.

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