Learning in male Sprague-Dawley rats was assessed in two types of positively reinforced complex spatial discrimination tasks (Stone 14-unit T-maze and eight-arm radial-arm maze) following cytotoxic lesions of central serotonergic terminal projection fields with p-chloroamphetamine (PCA). Learning, as expressed as mean number of errors per day and mean number of trails required to reach criterion, was significantly enhanced in the PCA-lesioned animals trained in the Stone maze. On the other hand, the performance of the PCA-lesioned animals trained in the eight-arm radial-arm maze was not found to differ significantly from that of saline-injected animals. The improved acquisition of the PCA-lesioned rats trained in the Stone maze was completely abolished following pretreatment with the selective serotonergic reuptake inhibitor norzimeldine. Neurochemical analyses of the brains of representative animals revealed that the levels of serotonin and its major metabolite, 5-hydroxy-3-indoleacetic acid, were both significantly reduced by PCA in all regions examined. While it is clear from these and other studies that the serotonergic nervous system plays an important role in the processes underlying learning and memory, these results further underscore the selective role of this neurotransmitter system in the way information is processed by the brain.
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