The neuroscience of mammalian associative learning.

Department of Psychology and Brain Research Institute, University of California-Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563, USA.
Annual Review of Psychology (Impact Factor: 20.53). 02/2005; 56:207-34. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.56.091103.070213
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Mammalian associative learning is organized into separate anatomically defined functional systems. We illustrate the organization of two of these systems, Pavlovian fear conditioning and Pavlovian eyeblink conditioning, by describing studies using mutant mice, brain stimulation and recording, brain lesions and direct pharmacological manipulations of specific brain regions. The amygdala serves as the neuroanatomical hub of the former, whereas the cerebellum is the hub of the latter. Pathways that carry information about signals for biologically important events arrive at these hubs by circuitry that depends on stimulus modality and complexity. Within the amygdala and cerebellum, neural plasticity occurs because of convergence of these stimuli and the biologically important information they predict. This neural plasticity is the physical basis of associative memory formation, and although the intracellular mechanisms of plasticity within these structures share some similarities, they differ significantly. The last Annual Review of Psychology article to specifically tackle the question of mammalian associative learning ( Lavond et al. 1993 ) persuasively argued that identifiable "essential" circuits encode memories formed during associative learning. The next dozen years saw breathtaking progress not only in detailing those essential circuits but also in identifying the essential processes occurring at the synapses (e.g., Bi & Poo 2001, Martinez & Derrick 1996 ) and within the neurons (e.g., Malinow & Malenka 2002, Murthy & De Camilli 2003 ) that make up those circuits. In this chapter, we describe the orientation that the neuroscience of learning has taken and review some of the progress made within that orientation.

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