Hippocampal representation of touch-guided behavior in rats: persistent and independent traces of stimulus and reward location

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 28;6(1):e16462. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016462.


Understanding the mechanisms by which sensory experiences are stored remains a compelling challenge for neuroscience. Previous work has described how the activity of neurons in the sensory cortex allows rats to discriminate the physical features of an object contacted with their whiskers. But to date there is no evidence about how neurons represent the behavioural significance of tactile stimuli, or how they are encoded in memory. To investigate these issues, we recorded single-unit firing and local field potentials from the CA1 region of hippocampus while rats performed a task in which tactile stimuli specified reward location. On each trial the rat touched a textured plate with its whiskers, and then turned towards the Left or Right water spout. Two textures were associated with each reward location. To determine the influence of the rat's position on sensory coding, we placed it on a second platform in the same room where it performed the identical texture discrimination task. Over 25 percent of the sampled neurons encoded texture identity--their firing differed for two stimuli associated with the same reward location--and over 50 percent of neurons encoded the reward location with which the stimuli were associated. The neuronal population carried texture and reward location signals continuously, from the moment of stimulus contact until the end of reward collection. The set of neurons discriminating between one texture pair was found to be independent of, and partially overlapping, the set of neurons encoding the discrimination between a different texture pair. In a given neuron, the presence of a tactile signal was uncorrelated with the presence, magnitude, or timing of reward location signals. These experiments indicate that neurons in CA1 form a texture representation independently of the action the stimulus is associated with and retain the stimulus representation through reward collection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • CA1 Region, Hippocampal
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Memory
  • Neurons
  • Rats
  • Reward*
  • Touch / physiology*
  • Vibrissae