Associative Encoding in Anterior Piriform Cortex versus Orbitofrontal Cortex during Odor Discrimination and Reversal Learning

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Recent proposals have conceptualized piriform cortex as an association cortex, capable of integrating incoming olfactory information with descending input from higher order associative regions such as orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). If true, encoding in piriform cortex should reflect associative features prominent in these areas during associative learning involving olfactory cues. To test this hypothesis, we recorded from neurons in OFC and anatomically related parts of the anterior piriform cortex (APC) in rats, learning and reversing novel odor discriminations. Findings in OFC were similar to what we have reported previously, with nearly all the cue-selective neurons exhibiting substantial plasticity during learning and reversal. Also, many of the cue-selective neurons were originally responsive in anticipation of the outcomes early in learning, thereby providing a single-unit representation of the cue-outcome associations. Some of these features were also evident in firing activity in APC, including some plasticity across learning and reversal. However, APC neurons failed to reverse cue selectivity when the associated outcome was changed, and the cue-selective population did not include neurons that were active prior to outcome delivery. Thus, although representations in APC are substantially more associative than expected in a purely sensory region, they do appear to be somewhat more constrained by the sensory features of the odor cues than representations in downstream areas of OFC.

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