The present review examines the role of perirhinal cortex (PRC) in Pavlovian fear conditioning. The focus is on rats, partly because so much is known, behaviorally and neurobiologically, about fear conditioning in these animals. In addition, the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of rat PRC have been described in considerable detail at the cellular and systems levels. The evidence suggests that PRC can serve at least two types of mnemonic functions in Pavlovian fear conditioning. The first function, termed "stimulus unitization," refers to the ability to treat two or more separate items or stimulus elements as a single entity. Supporting evidence for this perceptual function comes from studies of context conditioning as well as delay conditioning to discontinuous auditory cues. In a delay paradigm, the conditional stimulus (CS) and unconditional stimulus (US) overlap temporally and co-terminate. The second PRC function entails a type of "transient memory." Supporting evidence comes from studies of trace cue conditioning, where there is a temporal gap or trace interval between the CS offset and the US onset. For learning to occur, there must be a transient CS representation during the trace interval. We advance a novel neurophysiological mechanism for this transient representation. These two hypothesized functions of PRC are consistent with inferences based on non-aversive forms of learning.
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