Upinder S. Bhalla, Ph.D.
Professor & Dean, NCBS, Bengaluru, India
Watching the network change during the formation of associative memory
The process of learning is measured through behavioural changes, but it is of enormous interest to understand its cellular and network basis. We used 2-photon imaging of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neuron activity in mice to monitor such changes during the acquisition of a trace conditioning task. One of the questions in such learning is how the network retains a trace of a brief conditioned stimulus (a sound), until the arrival of a delayed unconditioned stimulus (a puff of air to the eye). During learning, the mice learn to blink when the tone is presented, well before the arrival of the air puff.
The mice learnt this task in 20-50 trials. We observed that in this time-frame the cells in the network changed the time of their peak activity, such that their firing times tiled the interval between sound and air puff. Thus the cells seem to form a relay of activity. We also observed an evolution in functional connectivity in the network, as measured by groupings of correlated cells. These groupings were stable till the learning protocol commenced, and then changed. Thus we have been able to observe two aspects of network learning: changes in activity (relay firing), and changes in connectivity (correlation groups).