The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
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The cholinergic system has long been implicated in learning and memory, yet its specific function remains unclear. In the present study, we investigated the role of cortical acetylcholine in a rodent model of declarative memory by infusing the cholinergic muscarinic receptor antagonist scopolamine into the rat perirhinal cortex during different stages (encoding, storage/consolidation, and retrieval) of the spontaneous object recognition task. Presample infusions of scopolamine significantly impaired object recognition compared with performance of the same group of rats on saline trials; this result is consistent with previous reports supporting a role for perirhinal acetylcholine in object information acquisition. Scopolamine infusions directly before the retrieval stage had no discernible effect on object recognition. However, postsample infusions of scopolamine with sample-to-infusion delays of up to 20 h significantly facilitated performance relative to postsample saline infusion trials. Additional analysis suggested that the infusion episode could cause retroactive or proactive interference with the sample object trace and that scopolamine blocked the acquisition of this interfering information, thereby facilitating recognition memory. This is, to our knowledge, the first example of improved recognition memory after administration of scopolamine. The overall pattern of results is inconsistent with a direct role for cortical acetylcholine in declarative memory consolidation or retrieval. Rather, the cholinergic input to the perirhinal cortex may facilitate acquisition by enhancing the cortical processing of incoming stimulus information.