Differential Arc expression in the hippocampus and striatum during the transition from attentive to automatic navigation on a plus maze

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The strategies utilized to effectively perform a given task change with practice and experience. During a spatial navigation task, with relatively little training, performance is typically attentive enabling an individual to locate the position of a goal by relying on spatial landmarks. These (place) strategies require an intact hippocampus. With task repetition, performance becomes automatic; the same goal is reached using a fixed response or sequence of actions. These (response) strategies require an intact striatum. The current work aims to understand the activation patterns across these neural structures during this experience-dependent strategy transition. This was accomplished by region-specific measurement of activity-dependent immediate early gene expression among rats trained to different degrees on a dual-solution task (i.e., a task that can be solved using either place or response navigation). As expected, rats increased their reliance on response navigation with extended task experience. In addition, dorsal hippocampal expression of the immediate early gene Arc was considerably reduced in rats that used a response strategy late in training (as compared with hippocampal expression in rats that used a place strategy early in training). In line with these data, vicarious trial and error, a behavior linked to hippocampal function, also decreased with task repetition. Although Arc mRNA expression in dorsal medial or lateral striatum alone did not correlate with training stage, the ratio of expression in the medial striatum to that in the lateral striatum was relatively high among rats that used a place strategy early in training as compared with the ratio among over-trained response rats. Altogether, these results identify specific changes in the activation of dissociated neural systems that may underlie the experience-dependent emergence of response-based automatic navigation.

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