NGF Deprivation of Adult Rat Brain Results in Cholinergic Hypofunction and Selective Impairments in Spatial Learning Journal Articles uri icon

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  • AbstractCholinergic hypofunction has often been correlated with a variety of behavioural impairments. In the present study, adult Wistar rats were intraventricularly infused with antibodies to nerve growth factor (anti‐NGF) to examine the effects on cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain, and on behavioural performance. Immunocytochemical techniques indicated that chronically infused anti‐NGF penetrates into the basal forebrain, cortex, striatum, corpus callosum and hippocampus, confirming previous findings after a single injection. Treatment with anti‐NGF for 1 or 2 weeks resulted in a significant decrease of 27‐33% in density of choline acetyltransferase immunostaining of the cholinergic cell bodies in the medial septum and vertical diagonal band, and a 26% reduction in choline acetyltransferase enzyme activity in the septal area. An array of spatial learning Morris water maze tasks was used to distinguish between acquisition skills and the flexible use of learned information in novel tests. Rats subjected to the spatial learning paradigm received anti‐NGF infusion for 2 weeks prior to and for another 2 weeks during the behavioural testing. The anti‐NGF‐treated animals were found to be no different from those receiving control serum in the Morris water maze acquisition task, either in the latency to find the platform or in the time spent searching in the training quadrant when the platform was removed. However, in consecutive extinction trials, anti‐NGF rats continued to search in the empty training quadrant, suggesting the occurrence of perseveration; control rats expanded their search over other areas of the pool. This inflexibility of the anti‐NGF rats was also evident from their difficulty in learning to find a relocated platform in the reversal task. Finally, the anti‐NGF‐treated animals demonstrated hyperactivity in the open field, resembling in this respect the behaviour of animals after septal and fimbria fornix lesions, and during pharmacological cholinergic blockade. While these data support a role for NGF in cholinergic function and spatial learning behaviour, they indicate that deficits in the latter, e.g. those demonstrated in impaired aged rats, may not be attributable selectively to deficits in the function of NGF‐sensitive cholinergic neurons of the basal forebrain.


  • Van der Zee, Catharina EEM
  • Lourenssen, Sandra
  • Stanisz, Jolanta
  • Diamond, James

publication date

  • January 1995