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Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2010 Nov;94(4):521-9. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2010.09.004. Epub 2010 Sep 9.

Amygdala conditioning modulates sensory input to the cerebellum.

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Psychobiology Research Unit, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel.


Localization of emotional learning in the amygdala and discrete motor learning in the cerebellum provides empirical means to study the mechanisms mediating the interaction between fast emotional and slow motor learning. Behavioral studies have demonstrated that fear conditioning facilitates the motor conditioning. The present study tests the hypothesis that the amygdala output induces this facilitation by increasing the salience of the conditioned stimulus (CS) representation in the pontine nucleus (PN) input to the cerebellum. Paired trials of CS-US (unconditioned stimulus) were applied to anesthetized rats, a condition that allows for amygdala-based fear conditioning but not cerebellar-based motor conditioning. Multiple unit recordings in the PN served to assess the salience of the CS. Results showed that CS-US conditioning increased the PN-reactivity to the CS. Lidocaine-induced reversible inactivation of the amygdala prevented the facilitatory effect of conditioning on the PN-reactivity to the CS. These findings suggest that the amygdala-based conditioned responses reach the PN and increase the salience of the CS signal there, perhaps facilitating cerebellar conditioning. This facilitatory effect of the amygdala may be conceptualized under the 'two-stage theory of learning', which predicts that emotional learning in the first stage accelerates the motor learning in the second stage. We hereby demonstrate the physiological mechanism through which fast emotional learning in the first stage facilitates slow cerebellar learning in the second stage.

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