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Neuroscience. 1994 Dec;63(3):653-66.

Restoration of cognitive abilities by cholinergic grafts in cortex of monkeys with lesions of the basal nucleus of Meynert.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, Cambridge, U.K.


Three groups of marmosets were trained to perform a series of visual discrimination tasks in a Wisconsin General Test Apparatus. Two groups then received bilateral lesions of the basal nucleus of Meynert using the excitotoxin N-methyl-D-aspartate and were found to be severely impaired on relearning a visual discrimination first learnt prior to surgery. One lesioned group then received grafts of acetylcholine-rich tissue dissected from the basal forebrain of fetal marmosets. Three months later the marmosets with lesion alone remained impaired on a number of retention and reversal tasks whereas the transplanted animals were no longer significantly impaired. Histological examination of the brains indicated that all lesioned animals had sustained substantial loss of the cholinergic neurons of the basal nucleus of Meynert (assessed by nerve growth factor receptor immunoreactivity) and that the lesion-alone animals showed marked loss of the cholinergic marker acetylcholinesterase in the dorsolateral frontal and parietal cortex. All transplanted animals had surviving graft tissue (visualized by Cresyl Violet staining, dense acetylcholinesterase staining and the presence of a limited number of nerve growth factor receptor-immunoreactive neurons) in the neocortex and 5/6 transplanted animals showed near complete restitution of acetylcholinesterase staining in frontal and parietal cortex. Examination of individual animal data showed that the animal without this restitution performed very poorly. The performance of the remaining transplanted animals was significantly better than that of the animals with lesion alone. There was a significant positive correlation between the degree of acetylcholinesterase staining and good performance on tasks sensitive to frontal lobe damage. These results demonstrate that acetylcholine-rich tissue transplanted into the neocortex of primates with damage to the cholinergic projections to the neocortex can produce substantial restitution of function provided that an appropriate level of interaction between graft and host tissue is achieved.

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