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Behav Neurosci. 2010 Aug;124(4):500-9. doi: 10.1037/a0020270.

Operant learning requires NMDA-receptor activation in the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsomedial striatum, but not in the orbitofrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 53705, USA.


Previous research has shown that corticostriatal N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activation is necessary for operant learning. NMDAR activation induces plasticity-related intracellular signaling processes leading to gene expression, which are hypothesized to be important steps in codifying the content of learning. Operant learning induces immediate early gene (IEG) expression in key corticostriatal structures, namely the dorsomedial striatum (DMS), the orbitofrontal (OFC), and anterior cingulate cortices (ACC). Both the ACC and OFC send glutamatergic projections to the DMS, which is a crucial site for operant behavior. However, the role of NMDAR activation in these corticostriatal regions in operant learning is unknown. To test this hypothesis, the NMDA antagonist AP-5 (1 microg/0.5 microl) or saline was bilaterally microinjected into the ACC, OFC, and DMS of food-deprived rats just prior to operant learning sessions. NMDAR antagonism in the ACC and DMS impaired the acquisition of lever pressing for sucrose pellets but had no effect on lever pressing once learned. NMDAR blockade in OFC did not significantly impair operant learning, suggesting that NMDAR activation in operant learning is site-specific. These data extend our understanding of the role of NMDA receptors in operant learning and behavior throughout an extended corticostriatal network.

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