2023 69 B3

Intersecting Neuroscience and Mouse Research: Examining the Relationship Between Environmental Cues and the Brain's Response

By: Christopher Saavedra

Department: Chemistry & Biochemistry

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kala Mehta

Learning to predict rewards based on environmental cues is essential for survival. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) contributes to such learning by converting reward-related information to certain brain areas (such as the ventral segmental area (VTA)). Despite this, how cue-reward memory representations form in individual OFC neurons and are modifies base on new information is unknown. In order to address this, using in vivo two-photon calcium imaging in mice, we tracked the response evolution of thousands of OFC output neurons, including those projecting to VTA, through multiple days and stages of cue–reward learning. Collectively, we show that OFC contains several functional clusters of neurons distinctly encoding cue–reward memory representations, with only select responses routed downstream to VTA. Unexpectedly, these representations were stably maintained by the same neurons even after extinction of the cue–reward pairing, and supported behavioral learning and memory. Thus, OFC neuronal activity represents a long-term cue–reward associative memory to support behavioral adaptation.