In the hippocampus, locations associated with salient features are represented by a disproportionately large number of neurons, but the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying this over-representation remain elusive. Using longitudinal calcium imaging in mice learning to navigate in virtual reality, we find that the over-representation of reward and landmark locations are mediated by persistent and separable subsets of neurons, with distinct time courses of emergence and differing underlying molecular mechanisms. Strikingly, we find that in mice lacking Shank2, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)-linked gene encoding an excitatory postsynaptic scaffold protein, the learning-induced over-representation of landmarks was absent whereas the over-representation of rewards was substantially increased, as was goal-directed behavior. These findings demonstrate that multiple hippocampal coding processes for unique types of salient features are distinguished by a Shank2-dependent mechanism and suggest that abnormally distorted hippocampal salience mapping may underlie cognitive and behavioral abnormalities in a subset of ASDs.
Keywords: G-CaMP7; Shank; cognitive map; hippocampal CA1 region; memory; neurodevelopmental disorders; spatial learning; spatial navigation; synapses; two-photon imaging.
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