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Behav Neurosci. 1997 Jun;111(3):532-42.

Analyses of response patterns clarify lead effects in olfactory reversal and extradimensional shift tasks: assessment of inhibitory control, associative ability, and memory.

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Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Rats exposed to lead (Pb) chronically from conception were tested on (a) an olfactory serial reversal task and (b) an extradimensional shift (EDS) task. Pb exposure did not impair learning of the original olfactory discrimination but did impair learning of the 5 reversals and the EDS task. In the reversals, Pb exposure tended to shorten the initial period of persistent responding to the previously correct cue, but significantly prolonged the postperseverative learning phase (both the "chance" and "greater-than-chance" components). These effects are similar to those produced by lesions of the amygdala, a structure implicated in the process by which stimuli acquire incentive value. This similarity, coupled with the pattern of findings, suggests that Pb-induced impairment of reversal learning is due to a deficiency in learning the new contingencies of the task (an associative deficit), not inflexibility or deficient inhibitory control. These findings also illustrate the importance of analyzing the types of errors committed, rather than focusing solely on learning rate.

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