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J Neurosci. 1994 Jul;14(7):4467-80.

Locus coeruleus neurons in monkey are selectively activated by attended cues in a vigilance task.

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  • 1Department of Mental Health Sciences, Hahnemann University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102.


Impulse activity was recorded extracellularly from noradrenergic neurons in the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC; 47 single-cell and 126 multicell recordings) of four cynomolgus monkeys performing an oddball visual discrimination task. For juice reward, the subjects were required to release a lever rapidly in response to an infrequent (10-20% of trials) target cue (CS+) that was randomly intermixed with nontarget (CS-) stimuli presented on a video display. All LC neurons examined were phasically and selectively activated by target cues in this task. Other task events elicited no consistent response from these neurons (juice reward, lever release, fix-spot stimuli, nontarget stimuli). In one animal, nontarget cues phasically inhibited LC neurons. Phasic LC excitatory responses to target cues in this task occurred at a relatively short latency (mean = 90.7 msec), approximately 200 msec prior to the behavioral response (lever release). In addition, LC response magnitudes varied with behavioral performance, being substantially attenuated during epochs of poor performance (high false alarm rate). There was a positive correlation (r = 0.30, p < 0.0001) between the latency of LC responses and the latency of behavioral responses to same target cues, consistent with the possibility that LC responses may have a role in selective attention by facilitating responses to the CS+ stimulus. Analyses of behavioral response latencies to pairs of stimuli indicated that LC responses may facilitate behavioral responses to subsequent sensory cues, consistent with a role of this system in sustained attention/vigilance. Moreover, responses became reduced in magnitude over time during prolonged task performance (> 90 min), in parallel with a behavioral performance decrement. These results show that LC neurons are activated selectively by attended stimuli that demand a rapid response in this task, and that such LC responses may contribute to conditioned behavioral responses.

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