Rosselet C - Fieschi M - Hugues S - Bureau I


Frontiers in neural circuits


In primary sensory cortices, neuronal circuits change throughout life as a function of learning. During associative learning a neutral sensory stimulus acquires the emotional valence of an aversive event or a reward after repetitive contingent pairing. One important consequence is the enlargement of the representational area of the conditioned stimulus in the cortical map of its sensory modality. The details of this phenomenon at the circuit level are still largely unknown. Here, mice were trained in a differential conditioning paradigm where the deflections of one whisker row were paired with tail shocks and the deflections of two others were not. Changes occurring in excitatory circuits of barrel cortex were then examined in brain slices with laser scanning photostimulation mapping. We found that learning affected the projections targeting the supragranular layers in the columns of unpaired whiskers: Pyramidal cells located in layer (L) 3 received enhanced inputs from L5A cells located in their home column and new inputs from L2/3 and L4 cells located in the neighboring column of the paired whisker. In contrast, the excitatory projections impinging onto L2/3 cells in the column of the paired whisker were not altered. Together, these data reveal that associative learning alters the canonical columnar organization of functional ascending L4 projections and strengthens transcolumnar excitatory projections in barrel cortex. These phenomena could participate to the transformation of the whisker somatotopic map induced by associative learning.

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