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Sep 08, 2015
Frontiers In Cellular Neuroscience
Associative learning and memory are essential to logical thinking and cognition. How the neurons are recruited as associative memory cells to encode multiple input signals for their associated storage and distinguishable retrieval remains unclear. We studied this issue in the barrel cortex by in vivo two-photon calcium imaging, electrophysiology, and neural tracing in our mouse model that the simultaneous whisker and olfaction stimulations led to odorant-induced whisker motion. After this cross-modal reflex arose, the barrel and piriform cortices connected. More than 40% of barrel cortical neurons became to encode odor signal alongside whisker signal. Some of these neurons expressed distinct activity patterns in response to acquired odor signal and innate whisker signal, and others encoded similar pattern in response to these signals. In the meantime, certain barrel cortical astrocytes encoded odorant and whisker signals. After associative learning, the neurons and astrocytes in the sensory cortices are able to store the newly learnt signal (cross-modal memory) besides the innate signal (native-modal memory). Such associative memory cells distinguish the differences of these signals by programming different codes and signify the historical associations of these signals by similar codes in information retrievals.

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