The sequence of changes in single neuron activity in the CA1 area of the rabbit hippocampus was examined during dally sessions (80 trials/session) of hippocampally dependent nonspatial trace eyeblink (i.e., nictitating membrane response) conditioning. Each trial for trace conditioned animals (n = 7) consisted of a tone conditioned stimulus (CS; 6 kHz; 90 dB, 100 ms) followed by a 500-ms silent trace period, then a corneal airpuff unconditioned stimulus (US; 3.0 psi; 150 ms). Control animals (n = 5) received unpaired CSs and USs. Most pyramidal (n = 309) and theta (n = 21) cells were recorded for a single day of training. The activity of cells for each animal were grouped according to: the day of training that CRs began to increase and the day of training that CR performance became asymptotic. Pyramidal cells from trace conditioned animals demonstrated several stages of learning-related activity: large increases in activity after both the CS and US early in conditioning on the day of training when CRs began to increase, smaller moderate increases in activity on the following days of training, and decreases in activity after the US during asymptotic CRs. Pyramidal cell-increases declined significantly across the trials of each daily session. Theta cells showed an activity pattern opposite to the pyramidal cells, consistent with the notion that theta cells have an inhibitory influence on pyramidal cells. Single pyramidal cells also were categorized into response profiles. Most pyramidal response profiles showed increases in activity specific to the day of initial CRs. Two of the pyramidal response profiles may be involved in assessing the temporal properties of the CS-US trace conditioning trial.
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