Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 4, pp 2025–2038 | Cite as

Comparing brain activity patterns during spontaneous exploratory and cue-instructed learning using single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging of regional cerebral blood flow in freely behaving rats

  • A. Mannewitz
  • J. Bock
  • S. Kreitz
  • A. Hess
  • J. Goldschmidt
  • H. Scheich
  • Katharina Braun
Original Article


Learning can be categorized into cue-instructed and spontaneous learning types; however, so far, there is no detailed comparative analysis of specific brain pathways involved in these learning types. The aim of this study was to compare brain activity patterns during these learning tasks using the in vivo imaging technique of single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF). During spontaneous exploratory learning, higher levels of rCBF compared to cue-instructed learning were observed in motor control regions, including specific subregions of the motor cortex and the striatum, as well as in regions of sensory pathways including olfactory, somatosensory, and visual modalities. In addition, elevated activity was found in limbic areas, including specific subregions of the hippocampal formation, the amygdala, and the insula. The main difference between the two learning paradigms analyzed in this study was the higher rCBF observed in prefrontal cortical regions during cue-instructed learning when compared to spontaneous learning. Higher rCBF during cue-instructed learning was also observed in the anterior insular cortex and in limbic areas, including the ectorhinal and entorhinal cortexes, subregions of the hippocampus, subnuclei of the amygdala, and the septum. Many of the rCBF changes showed hemispheric lateralization. Taken together, our study is the first to compare partly lateralized brain activity patterns during two different types of learning.


Functional imaging Learning and memory Limbic Prefrontal 



Nucleus accumbens


n. accumbens—shell region


n. accumbens—core region


Anterior hypothalamus


Primary auditory cortex


Secondary auditory cortex


Anterior basal amygdala


Bed nucleus of the stria terminalis


Posterior basal amygdala


Central amygdala


Cingular cortex


Cortical amygdala


Corpus mammillare


Caudate putamen


Ectorhinal cortex


Entorhinal cortex


Globus pallidus




Inferior colliculus


Infralimbic cortex


Anterior insular cortex


Posterior insular cortex


Interpeduncular nucleus


Lateral amygdala


Lateral geniculatum


Lateral hypothalamus


Lateral septum


Primary motor cortex


Secondary motor cortex


Medial amygdala


Medial geniculatum


Medial hypothalamus


Medial orbitofrontal cortex


Medial septum


Olfactory nucleus


Olfactory tubercle


Periaqueductal gray


Piriform cortex


Pontine nucleus


Perirhinal cortex


Prelimbic cortex


Area pretectalis


Parietal association cortex


Raphe nuclei


Agranular retrosplenial cortex


Granular retrosplenial cortex


Primary somatosensory cortex—barrel cortex


Primary somatosensory cortex—forelimbs


Primary somatosensory cortex—hindlimbs


Primary somatosensory cortex—jaw region


Primary somatosensory cortex—upper lip


Secondary somatosensory cortex


Superior colliculus


Septofimbrial nucleus




Substantia nigra




Temporal association cortex






Triangular septum


Taenia tecta


Primary visual cortex—binocular area


Primary visual cortex—monocular area


Secondary visual cortex—lateral


Secondary visual cortex—medial


Ventral geniculatum


Ventral/lateral orbitofrontal cortex


Ventral pallidum


Ventral tegmental area



We thank Madeleine Stiefel for help with editorial work. This work was supported by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, Grant No: 01KR1304B (TRANSGEN) to K.B. and Grant No: 01KR1207D (UBICA) to J.B.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. Mannewitz
    • 1
  • J. Bock
    • 2
    • 6
  • S. Kreitz
    • 3
  • A. Hess
    • 3
  • J. Goldschmidt
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • H. Scheich
    • 4
    • 6
  • Katharina Braun
    • 1
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Zoology/Developmental Neurobiology, Institute of BiologyOtto von Guericke University MagdeburgMagdeburgGermany
  2. 2.“Epigenetics and Structural Plasticity”, Institute of BiologyOtto von Guericke University MagdeburgMagdeburgGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and ToxicologyFriedrich-Alexander UniversityErlangenGermany
  4. 4.Department Acoustics, Learning and SpeechLeibniz Institute for NeurobiologyMagdeburgGermany
  5. 5.Department Systems PhysiologyLeibniz Institute for NeurobiologyMagdeburgGermany
  6. 6.Center for Behavioral Brain SciencesMagdeburgGermany

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