Reward Cues in Space: Commonalities and Differences in Neural Coding by Hippocampal and Ventral Striatal Ensembles
Carien S. Lansink, Jadin C. Jackson, Jan V. Lankelma, Rutsuko Ito, Trevor W. Robbins, Barry J. Everitt, and Cyriel M.A. Pennartz
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 12444-12459
Forming place-reward associations critically depends on the integrity of the hippocampal–ventral striatal system. The ventral striatum (VS) receives a strong hippocampal input conveying spatial-contextual information, but it is unclear how this structure integrates this information to invigorate reward-directed behavior. Neuronal ensembles in rat hippocampus (HC) and VS were simultaneously recorded during a conditioning task in which navigation depended on path integration. In contrast to HC, ventral striatal neurons showed low spatial selectivity, but rather coded behavioral task phases toward reaching goal sites. Outcome-predicting cues induced a remapping of firing patterns in the HC, consistent with its role in episodic memory. VS remapped in conjunction with the HC, indicating that remapping can take place in multiple brain regions engaged in the same task. Subsets of ventral striatal neurons showed a “flip” from high activity when cue lights were illuminated to low activity in intertrial intervals, or vice versa. The cues induced an increase in spatial information transmission and sparsity in both structures. These effects were paralleled by an enhanced temporal specificity of ensemble coding and a more accurate reconstruction of the animal's position from population firing patterns. Altogether, the results reveal strong differences in spatial processing between hippocampal area CA1 and VS, but indicate similarities in how discrete cues impact on this processing.