Substantia nigra pars compacta is critical to both the acquisition and expression of learned orienting of rats

Heather El-Amamy, Peter C. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Novel events produce characteristic orienting responses (ORs), which typically habituate rapidly with repeated stimulus presentation. However, they may re-emerge if those stimuli become predictors of biologically significant events. This acquisition of conditioned ORs may reflect a broader range of enhancements in top-down attentional processing of cues that predict important consequences. Previous research from this laboratory showed that a neural circuit that includes the amygdala central nucleus (CeA), substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) and dorsolateral striatum (DLS) is essential for the learning and expression of one example of conditioned orienting, the rearing of rats to visual stimuli paired with food. Other studies showed that the CeA is critical to the acquisition of these conditioned ORs, but not their expression, and that normal DLS function is required for the expression of previously acquired conditioned ORs, but not for learning itself. The experiments reported here considered the roles of the SNc in conditioned orienting by examining the effects of transient inactivation of the SNc during the acquisition of new associations and during the expression of previous learning. SNc function was critical to both the acquisition and expression of conditioned ORs but not to the display of unconditioned ORs or the learning and expression of conditioned responses directed to the food source. Together with our previous findings, these results suggest that the SNc is trained by the CeA during learning and maintains acquired information so that it may modulate DLS sensory-motor function at the time of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-276
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2006


  • Amygdala central nucleus
  • Attention
  • Conditioning
  • Prediction error
  • Substantia nigra
  • Transient inactivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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