In the present study, the effects of unilateral or bilateral dopamine denervation of either the dorsal or ventral striatum on the preparation and execution of a delayed response task in the rat were investigated. Animals were instructed to hold a lever pressed down by the presentation of a visual and/or acoustic signal, and were required to hold the lever until a trigger stimulus occurred after an unpredictable delay ranging from 2 to 4 s. The trigger stimulus required animals to release the lever and to press a second lever for food reinforcement. The time between instruction and trigger signal represented the preparation phase preceding movement. The motor performance was evaluated by using reaction and movement times in addition to correct responses in each session. Dopaminergic denervation of either the dorsal or ventral striatum ipsilaterally to the side in which the second lever to be pressed was located did not significantly change reaction and movement times, although it reduced the percentage of correct trials. A significant increase of both reaction and movement times was recorded only after bilateral denervation of the ventral striatum. The analysis of incorrect responses indicated that dopaminergic innervation of the two striatal subregions had different functions in the correct execution of the behavioral paradigm. In the group of animals with dorsal lesions the most frequent incorrect response was represented by a lack of the conditioned response to the presentation of the instruction stimulus starting the trial. If the animals reacted properly to this signal, the performance thereafter was correct in the majority of trials. Conversely, animals with ventral lesions exhibited a large repertoire of incorrect responses throughout the paradigm, including premature release or delayed press of levers, and omission of the second lever press. Histological verification of brain coronal sections by tyrosine-hydroxylase immunoreactivity showed that the lesions were confined in either the dorsal or ventral striatum, sparing the lateral region. The data support the hypothesis that dopaminergic innervation enables the two striatal regions to differently participate in the preparation and execution of complex delayed sensorimotor tasks. Indeed, the dorsal striatum seems to be involved in the correct utilization of external sensory information for the initiation of conditioned behavior, whereas, the ventral striatum appears to be mainly concerned with the temporal expectation of impending stimuli that trigger reward-reinforced movements.
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