Single-unit activity in red nucleus during the classically conditioned rabbit nictitating membrane response

John E. Desmond, John W. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous investigations have suggested that the cerebellum and associated brainstem structures, including the red nucleus, are essential for the expression of the classically conditioned nictitating membrane (NM) response. The present study examined the firing patterns of extracellularly-recorded single units in the red nucleus of the awake rabbit during differential conditioning. Tones were used as conditioned stimulus (CS+ and CS-) and periocular electrostimulation was used as the unconditioned stimulus (US). Most units exhibited one or more changes in firing rate during the presentation of the CS, and increases in firing were much more common than decreases. The onset of some of these changes appeared to be time-locked to the onset of the CS ('CS-locked' responses), while other changes were time-locked to the onset of the CR ('CR-locked' responses). About one-third of all CS-locked changes were CR-dependent, meaning that the neuronal response was reduced when the CR did not occur. About two-thirds of all CR-locked responses preceded the onset of the CR, and lead times varied considerably across units. Many CR-locked units were located in what has been described as a dorsal face region of the red nucleus. Most units responded to the US, and some of the US responses were CR-dependent: i.e., a smaller US response was evoked when a CR preceded the US than when the CR was absent. Our results support the notion that cerebellum-brainstem circuits are involved in generating NM CRs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-279
Number of pages20
JournalNeuroscience Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • Classical conditioning
  • Conditioned response
  • Eye blink
  • Learned movements
  • Red nucleus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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