The representation of odor in olfactory cortex (piriform) is distributive and unstructured and can only be afforded behavioral significance upon learning. We performed 2-photon imaging to examine the representation of odors in piriform and in two downstream areas, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), as mice learned olfactory associations. In piriform, we observed that odor responses were largely unchanged during learning. In OFC, 30% of the neurons acquired robust responses to conditioned stimuli (CS+) after learning, and these responses were gated by internal state and task context. Moreover, direct projections from piriform to OFC can be entrained to elicit learned olfactory behavior. CS+ responses in OFC diminished with continued training, whereas persistent representations of both CS+ and CS- odors emerged in mPFC. Optogenetic silencing indicates that these two brain structures function sequentially to consolidate the learning of appetitive associations.
Keywords: Medial Prefrontal Cortex; Orbitofrontal Cortex; Piriform Cortex; learning; memory; olfaction; sensory processing; value.
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