Goal-directed behavior involves distributed neuronal circuits in the mammalian brain, including diverse regions of neocortex. However, the cellular basis of long-range cortico-cortical signaling during goal-directed behavior is poorly understood. Here, we recorded membrane potential of excitatory layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons in primary somatosensory barrel cortex (S1) projecting to either primary motor cortex (M1) or secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) during a whisker detection task, in which thirsty mice learn to lick for water reward in response to a whisker deflection. Whisker stimulation in 'Good performer' mice, but not 'Naive' mice, evoked long-lasting biphasic depolarization correlated with task performance in S2-projecting (S2-p) neurons, but not M1-projecting (M1-p) neurons. Furthermore, S2-p neurons, but not M1-p neurons, became excited during spontaneous unrewarded licking in 'Good performer' mice, but not in 'Naive' mice. Thus, a learning-induced, projection-specific signal from S1 to S2 may contribute to goal-directed sensorimotor transformation of whisker sensation into licking motor output.
Keywords: goal-directed sensorimotor learning; mouse; neocortical projection neurons; neuroscience; primary somatosensory barrel cortex; secondary somatosensory cortex; whisker motor cortex; whole-cell membrane potential recordings.