Rabbit eyeblink conditioning is a well characterized model of associative learning. To identify specific neurons that are part of the eyeblink premotor pathway, a retrograde transsynaptic tracer (pseudorabies virus) was injected into the orbicularis oculi muscle. Four time points (3, 4, 4.5, and 5 d) were selected to identify sequential segments of the pathway and a map of labeled structures was generated. At 3 d, labeled first-order motor neurons were found in dorsolateral facial nucleus ipsilaterally. At 4 d, second-order premotor neurons were found in reticular nuclei, and sensory trigeminal, auditory, vestibular, and motor structures, including contralateral red nucleus. At 4.5 d, labeled third-order premotor neurons were found in the pons, midbrain, and cerebellum, including dorsolateral anterior interpositus nucleus and rostral fastigial nucleus. At 5 d, labeling revealed higher-order premotor structures. Labeled fourth-order Purkinje cells were found in ipsilateral cerebellar cortex in cerebellar lobule HVI and in lobule I. The former has been implicated in eyeblink conditioning and the latter in vestibular control. Labeled neurons in anterior interpositus were studied, using neurotransmitter immunoreactivity to classify individual cell types and delineate their interconnectivity. Labeled third-order premotor neurons were immunoreactive for glutamate and corresponded to large excitatory projection neurons. Labeled fourth-order premotor interneurons were immunoreactive for GABA (30%), glycine (18%), or both GABA and glycine (52%) and form a functional network within anterior interpositus involved in modulation of motor commands. These results identify a complete eyeblink premotor pathway, deep cerebellar interconnectivity, and specific neurons responsible for the generation of eyeblink responses.
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