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Learn Mem. 2003 Nov-Dec;10(6):427-55.

Neural substrates of eyeblink conditioning: acquisition and retention.

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  • 1Neuroscience Program, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089-2520, USA.


Classical conditioning of the eyeblink reflex to a neutral stimulus that predicts an aversive stimulus is a basic form of associative learning. Acquisition and retention of this learned response require the cerebellum and associated sensory and motor pathways and engage several other brain regions including the hippocampus, neocortex, neostriatum, septum, and amygdala. The cerebellum and its associated circuitry form the essential neural system for delay eyeblink conditioning. Trace eyeblink conditioning, a learning paradigm in which the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli are noncontiguous, requires both the cerebellum and the hippocampus and exhibits striking parallels to declarative memory formation in humans. Identification of the neural structures critical to the development and maintenance of the conditioned eyeblink response is an essential precursor to the investigation of the mechanisms responsible for the formation of these associative memories. In this review, we describe the evidence used to identify the neural substrates of classical eyeblink conditioning and potential mechanisms of memory formation in critical regions of the hippocampus and cerebellum. Addressing a central goal of behavioral neuroscience, exploitation of this simple yet robust model of learning and memory has yielded one of the most comprehensive descriptions to date of the physical basis of a learned behavior in mammals.

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