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The limbic thalamus, specifically the anterior thalamic nuclei (ATN), contains brain signals including that of head direction cells, which fire as a function of an animal's directional orientation in an environment. Recent work has suggested that this directional orientation information stemming from the ATN contributes to the generation of hippocampal and parahippocampal spatial representations, and may contribute to the establishment of unique spatial representations in radially oriented tasks such as the radial arm maze. While previous studies have shown that ATN lesions can impair spatial working memory performance in the radial maze, little work has been done to investigate spatial reference memory in a discrimination task variant. Further, while previous studies have shown that ATN lesions can impair performance in the radial maze, these studies produced the ATN lesions prior to training. It is therefore unclear whether the ATN lesions disrupted acquisition or retention of radial maze performance. Here, we tested the role of ATN signaling in a previously learned spatial discrimination task on a radial arm maze. Rats were first trained to asymptotic levels in a task in which two maze arms were consistently baited across training. After 24 h, animals received muscimol inactivation of the ATN before a 4 trial probe test. We report impairments in post-inactivation trials, suggesting that signals from the ATN modulate the use of a previously acquired spatial discrimination in the radial-arm maze. The results are discussed in relation to the thalamo-cortical limbic circuits involved in spatial information processing, with an emphasis on the head direction signal. © 2017 Harvey, Thompson, Sanchez, Yoder and Clark.


Originally published by Frontiers Media, Creative Commons Attribution License

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