Two Afferent Systems Control the Activation of the Neocortex and Hippocampus

  • C. H. Vanderwolf


Throughout most of the twentieth century, it was very widely believed that the pattern of slow wave potentials recorded from the neocortex (the electrocorticogram) or from the surface of the scalp (the electroencephalogram) is closely related to the level of consciousness. This concept is illustrated in Figure 4-1 taken from Penfield and Jasper’s 1954 book on “Epilepsy and the functional anatomy of the human brain1. In general, high levels of consciousness or excitement were said to be correlated with relatively low voltage higher frequency (fast) potentials while sleep or unconsciousness were said to be correlated with higher voltage lower frequency (slow) potentials. I was skeptical about this, in part because of doubts about the validity of psychological interpretations of any cerebral events, and in part because certain well-established facts did not agree with the conventional theory. One of these facts was the discovery by A. Wikler in 1952 that atropine, a drug that blocks some of the effects of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, produces an abundance of large amplitude slow wave activity in the electrocorticogram in dogs without producing behavioral sleep or coma.


Slow Wave Hippocampal Activity Atropine Sulfate Hypothalamic Stimulation Midbrain Reticular Formation 
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Notes on Chapter 4

  1. 1.
    Penfield, W., and Jasper, H. (1954). Epilepsy and the functional anatomy of the human brain. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    I was not the first to see this phenomenon. Ron Harper once told me that he had observed the effect while working at McMaster University but it was not mentioned in his Ph.D. thesis. However, Ron later mentioned the effect in a single sentence, “If the animal moved, however (following treatment with atropine) the slow waves would disappear and reappear after the movement had been completed,” [Harper, R.M. (1973) Relationship of neuronal activity to EEG waves during sleep and wakefulness, In Phillips, M.I. (ed.) Brain unit activity during behavior Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, 130–154].Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Vanderwolf, C.H. (1975). Neocortical and hippocampal activation in relation to behaviour: effects of atropine, eserine, phenothiazines and amphetamine. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 88: 300–323.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    This had very little effect on avoidance performance even though such performance is poor if the drug is given before training. This difference between drug effects on acquisition and on retention is interesting in its own right [see discussion by Vanderwolf, C.H., and Cain, D.P. (1994). The behavioural neurobiology of learning and memory: a conceptual reorientation. Brain Research Reviews, 19: 264–297]Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Plum, F. (1991). Coma and related global disturbances of the human conscious state. In A. Peters and E.G. Jones (eds.). Cerebral cortex, volume 9, Normal and altered states of function. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 359–425.Google Scholar
  6. Vanderwolf, C.H., Kramis, R., Gillespie, L.A., and Bland, B.H. (1975). Hippocampal rhythmic slow activity and neocortical low voltage fast activity: relations to behavior. In R.L. Isaacson and K.H. Pribram (eds.) The hippocampus, volume 2: Neurophysiology and behavior,New York: Plenum Press, 101–128.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    This entire experiment was repeated over 15 years later using more quantitative methods [Vanderwolf, C.H. (1992) Hippocampal activity, olfaction and sniffing: an olfactory input to the dentate gyrus. Brain Research, 593: 197–208]. It was shown that although the atropine-or scopolamine-sensitive form of hippocampal rhythmical slow activity can precede the initiation of the jump response by several seconds, the atropine-resistant form of this activity precedes the initiation of jumping by only 100–200 milliseconds.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Kramis, R., Vanderwolf, C.H., and Bland, B.H. (1975). Two types of hippocampal rhythmical slow activity in both the rabbit and rat: relations to behavior and effects of atropine, diethyl ether, urethane, and pentobarbital. Experimental Neurology, 49: 58–85.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gillespie, L.A. (1975). Ontogeny ofhippocampal electrical activity and behavior in rat, rabbit, and guinea pig. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Creery, B.L., and Bland, B.H. (1980). Ontogeny of fascia dentata electrical activity and motor behavior in the Dutch Belted rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Experimental Neurology, 67: 554–572. Leblanc, M.O., and Bland, B.H. (1979). Developmental aspects of hippocampal electrical activity and motor behavior in the rat. Experimental Neurology, 66: 220–237.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. H. Vanderwolf
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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