Conflicting evidence exists regarding the role of infralimbic cortex (IL) in the environmental control of appetitive behavior. Inhibition of IL, irrespective of its intrinsic neural activity, attenuates not only the ability of environmental cues predictive of reward availability to promote reward seeking, but also the ability of environmental cues predictive of reward omission to suppress this behavior. Here we report that such bidirectional behavioral modulation in rats is mediated by functionally distinct units of neurons (neural ensembles) that are concurrently localized within the same IL brain area but selectively reactive to different environmental cues. Ensemble-specific neural activity is thought to function as a memory engram representing a learned association between environment and behavior. Our findings establish the causal evidence for the concurrent existence of two distinct engrams within a single brain site, each mediating opposing environmental actions on a learned behavior.
Keywords: Pavlovian conditioning; appetitive behavior; infralimbic cortex; memory engrams; neuronal ensemble; neuroscience; operant conditioning; rat.