Supervisor: Frédéric Gambino – team leader : Computational and Systems Neuroscience – IINS
The ability of an organism to predict forthcoming events is crucial for survival, and depends on the repeated contingency and contiguity between sensory cues and the events (i.e. danger) they must predict. The resulting learned association provides an accurate representation of the environment by increasing discriminative skills between threat and safety signals, most likely as a result of the interaction between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Although it suggests that local neuronal networks in the PFC might encode opposing memories that are preferentially selected during recall by recruiting specific cortical or subcortical structures, whether such a discriminative representation is wired within discrete prefrontal circuits during learning and by which synaptic mechanisms remain unclear. Here, the work at issue demonstrates that discrimination learning of both safe and fear-conditioned stimuli depends on full activity of the frontal association cortex, and is associated with the formation of cue-specific neuronal assemblies therein. During learning, prefrontal pyramidal neurons were potentiated through sensory-driven dendritic non-linearities supported by the activation of long-range inputs from the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Taken together, these data provide evidence for a new synaptic level mechanism that coincidently link (or meta-associate) during learning features of perceived experience with BLA mediated emotional state into prefrontal memory assemblies.