Stimulus-related and movement-related single-unit activity in rabbit cingulate cortex and limbic thalamus during performance of discriminative avoidance behavior

Yasuo Kubota, Martin Wolske, Amy Poremba, Eunjoo Kang, Michael Gabriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neuronal discharges related to acoustic conditional stimuli and locomotive behavioral responses of 152 anterior and medial dorsal (MD) thalamic and cingulate cortical single-units sorted from multi-unit activity were recorded as rabbits performed in a discriminative avoidance task. The goals were (1) to document the single-unit constituents of multi-site, multi-unit activity recorded previously in response to the conditional stimuli used for avoidance training; and (2) to document neuronal activity related to the onset of the behavioral avoidance response. Ninety-five units showed discriminative discharges: significantly different firing rates 90-700 ms after a foot shock-predictive conditional stimulus (CS +) than to a safety-predictive conditional stimulus (CS -). In accord with the multi-unit data, a majority of these units discharged at higher rates after the CS + than after the CS - . The discharge rates of 87 units were greater during the 2-s period preceding the onset of avoidance responses than during comparable trial periods after CS - presentations followed by no response. Fifty-six of the 87 avoidance-related units exhibited a progressive ramp-like firing increase 2-s before the avoidance response, with the maximal discharge rate occurring 200 ms before the response. These dynamic pre-avoidance discharges occurred first in limbic thalamus then in cingulate cortex, suggesting that cortical pre-motor processing may confer temporal specificity upon a more generalized command volley relayed from thalamus. Unlike the multi-unit data, 24 neurons exhibited inverse discrimination, i.e., significantly greater discharges in response to the CS - than to the CS +. Also 27 neurons showed significantly more firing in the 2-s period before the end of CS - trials in which no behavioral response occurred, than in the 2-s pre-avoidance period on CS + trials with responses. This 'inverse' CS-related and pre-avoidance activity occurred at low incidence (< 15%) in all areas except the MD nucleus, wherein it was exhibited by 45% of the recorded units. The inverse activity may reflect the operation of local inhibitory neurons which suppress the discharges of other neurons in response to the CS -. The prevalence of inverse activity in the MD nucleus suggested an involvement of this area in behavioral inhibition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22-38
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 20 1996


  • Avoidance learning
  • Cingulate cortex
  • Discrimination
  • Limbic thalamus
  • Pre-motor neuronal activity
  • Single-unit activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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