Reward-Based Learning Drives Rapid Sensory Signals in Medial Prefrontal Cortex and Dorsal Hippocampus Necessary for Goal-Directed Behavior

Neuron. 2018 Jan 3;97(1):83-91.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.11.031. Epub 2017 Dec 14.


The neural circuits underlying learning and execution of goal-directed behaviors remain to be determined. Here, through electrophysiological recordings, we investigated fast sensory processing across multiple cortical areas as mice learned to lick a reward spout in response to a brief deflection of a single whisker. Sensory-evoked signals were absent from medial prefrontal cortex and dorsal hippocampus in naive mice, but developed with task learning and correlated with behavioral performance in mice trained in the detection task. The sensory responses in medial prefrontal cortex and dorsal hippocampus occurred with short latencies of less than 50 ms after whisker deflection. Pharmacological and optogenetic inactivation of medial prefrontal cortex or dorsal hippocampus impaired behavioral performance. Neuronal activity in medial prefrontal cortex and dorsal hippocampus thus appears to contribute directly to task performance, perhaps providing top-down control of learned, context-dependent transformation of sensory input into goal-directed motor output.

Keywords: head-restrained mice; learning; local field potential; sensory processing; silicon probe recordings; somatosensory cortex; whisker.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Goals
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reward*