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Chemistry - Neuroscience

Dynamic Changes in Single Unit Activity and Gamma Oscillations in a Thalamocortical Circuit during Rapid Instrumental Learning
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Author: Chunxiu Yu et al.

by Chunxiu Yu, David Fan, Alberto Lopez, Henry H. Yin

The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and mediodorsal thalamus (MD) together form a thalamocortical circuit that has been implicated in the learning and production of goal-directed actions. In this study we measured neural activity in both regions simultaneously, as rats learned to press a lever to earn food rewards. In both MD and mPFC, instrumental learning was accompanied by dramatic changes in the firing patterns of the neurons, in particular the rapid emergence of single-unit neural activity reflecting the completion of the action and reward delivery. In addition, we observed distinct patterns of changes in the oscillatory LFP response in MD and mPFC. With learning, there was a significant increase in theta band oscillations (6–10 Hz) in the MD, but not in the mPFC. By contrast, gamma band oscillations (40–55 Hz) increased in the mPFC, but not in the MD. Coherence between these two regions also changed with learning: gamma coherence in relation to reward delivery increased, whereas theta coherence did not. Together these results suggest that, as rats learned the instrumental contingency between action and outcome, the emergence of task related neural activity is accompanied by enhanced functional interaction between MD and mPFC in response to the reward feedback.