Olfactory-learning abilities are correlated with the rate by which intrinsic neuronal excitability is modulated in the piriform cortex

Eur J Neurosci. 2009 Oct;30(7):1339-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06894.x. Epub 2009 Sep 21.


Long-lasting modulation of intrinsic neuronal excitability in cortical neurons underlies distinct stages of skill learning. However, whether individual differences in learning capabilities are dependent on the rate by which such learning-induced modifications occur has yet to be explored. Here we show that training rats in a simple olfactory-discrimination task results in the same enhanced excitability in piriform cortex neurons as previously shown after training in a much more complex olfactory-discrimination task. Based on their learning capabilities in the simple task, rats could be divided to two groups: fast performers and slow performers. The rate at which rats accomplished the skill to perform the simple task was correlated with the time course at which piriform cortex neurons increased their repetitive spike firing. Twelve hours after learning, neurons from fast performers had reduced spike frequency adaptation as compared with neurons from slow performers and controls. Three days after learning, spike frequency adaptation was reduced in neurons from SP, while neurons from fast performers increased their spike firing adaptation to the level of controls. Accordingly, the post-burst AHP was reduced in neurons from fast performers 12 h after learning and in neurons from slow performers 3 days after learning. Moreover, the differences in learning capabilities between fast performers and slow performers were maintained when examined in a different, complex olfactory-discrimination task. We suggest that the rate at which neuronal excitability is modified during learning may affect the behavioral flexibility of the animal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Microelectrodes
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Odorants
  • Olfactory Pathways / physiology*
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Time Factors