Structural Plasticity within the Barrel Cortex during Initial Phases of Whisker-Dependent Learning
ABSTRACT We report learning-related structural plasticity in layer 1 branches of pyramidal neurons in the barrel cortex, a known site of sensorimotor integration. In mice learning an active, whisker-dependent object localization task, layer 2/3 neurons showed enhanced spine growth during initial skill acquisition that both preceded and predicted expert performance. Preexisting spines were stabilized and new persistent spines were formed. These findings suggest rapid changes in connectivity between motor centers and sensory cortex guide subsequent sensorimotor learning.
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ABSTRACT: Three days of fear conditioning that combines tactile stimulation of a row of facial vibrissae (conditioned stimulus, CS) with a tail shock (unconditioned stimulus, UCS) expands the representation of "trained" vibrissae, which can be demonstrated by labeling with 2-deoxyglucose in layer IV of the barrel cortex. We have also shown that functional reorganization of the primary somatosensory cortex (S1) increases GABAergic markers in the hollows of "trained" barrels of the adult mouse. This study investigated how whisker-shock conditioning (CS+UCS) affected the expression of puncta of a high-affinity GABA plasma membrane transporter GAT-1 in the barrel cortex of mice 24 h after associative learning paradigm. We found that whisker-shock conditioning (CS+UCS) led to increase expression of neuronal and astroglial GAT-1 puncta in the "trained" row compared to controls: Pseudoconditioned, CS-only, UCS-only and Naïve animals. These findings suggest that fear conditioning specifically induces activation of systems regulating cellular levels of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.PLoS ONE 10/2014; 9(10):e110493. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0110493 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The genes that govern how experience refines neural circuitry and alters synaptic structural plasticity are poorly understood. The nogo-66 receptor 1 gene (ngr1) is one candidate that may restrict the rate of learning as well as basal anatomical plasticity in adult cerebral cortex. To investigate if ngr1 limits the rate of learning we tested adult ngr1 null mice on a tactile learning task. Ngr1 mutants display greater overall performance despite a normal rate of improvement on the gap-cross assay, a whisker-dependent learning paradigm. To determine if ngr1 restricts basal anatomical plasticity in the associated sensory cortex, we repeatedly imaged dendritic spines and axonal varicosities of both constitutive and conditional adult ngr1 mutant mice in somatosensory barrel cortex for two weeks through cranial windows with two-photon chronic in vivo imaging. Neither constant nor acute deletion of ngr1 affected turnover or stability of dendritic spines or axonal boutons. The improved performance on the gap-cross task is not attributable to greater motor coordination, as ngr1 mutant mice possess a mild deficit in overall performance and a normal learning rate on the rotarod, a motor task. Mice lacking ngr1 also exhibit normal induction of tone-associated fear conditioning yet accelerated fear extinction and impaired consolidation. Thus, ngr1 alters tactile and motor task performance but does not appear to limit the rate of tactile or motor learning, nor determine the low set point for synaptic turnover in sensory cortex.PLoS ONE 11/2014; 9(11):e112678. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0112678 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Classical conditioning that involves mnemonic processing, that is, a "trace" period between conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, requires awareness of the association to be formed and is considered a simple model paradigm for declarative learning. Barrel cortex, the whisker representation of primary somatosensory cortex, is required for the learning of a tactile variant of trace eyeblink conditioning (TTEBC) and undergoes distinct map plasticity during learning. To investigate the cellular mechanism underpinning TTEBC and concurrent map plasticity, we used two-photon imaging of dendritic spines in barrel cortex of awake mice while being conditioned. Monitoring layer 5 neurons' apical dendrites in layer 1, we show that one cellular expression of barrel cortex plasticity is a substantial spine count reduction of ∼15% of the dendritic spines present before learning. The number of eliminated spines and their time of elimination are tightly related to the learning success. Moreover, spine plasticity is highly specific for the principal barrel column receiving the main signals from the stimulated vibrissa. Spines located in other columns, even those directly adjacent to the principal column, are unaffected. Because layer 1 spines integrate signals from associative thalamocortical circuits, their column-specific elimination suggests that this spine plasticity may be the result of an association of top-down signals relevant for declarative learning and spatially precise ascending tactile signals. Copyright © 2015 the authors 0270-6474/15/353772-10$15.00/0.The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 03/2015; 35(9):3772-3781. DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2043-14.2015 · 6.75 Impact Factor