A number of studies indicate that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) plays a role in mediating the expression of behavioral responses during tasks that require flexible changes in behavior. During trace eyeblink conditioning, evidence suggests that the mPFC provides the cerebellum with a persistent input to bridge the temporal gap between conditioned and unconditioned stimuli. Therefore, the mPFC is in a position to directly mediate the expression of trace conditioned responses. However, it is unknown whether persistent neural responses are associated with the flexible expression of behavior when task contingencies are changed during trace eyeblink conditioning. To investigate this, single-unit activity was recorded in the mPFC of rabbits during extinction and reacquisition of trace eyeblink conditioning, and during training to a different conditional stimulus. Persistent responses remained unchanged after full extinction, and also did not change during reacquisition training. During training to a different tone, however, the generalization of persistent responses to the new stimulus was associated with an animal’s performance—when persistent responses generalized to the new tone, performance was high (>50% response rate). When persistent responses decreased to baseline rates, performance was poor (<50% response rate). The data suggest that persistent mPFC responses do not appear to mediate flexible changes in the expression of the original learning, but do appear to play a role in the generalization of that learning when the task is modified.
Siegel, J. J. (2016). Prefrontal Single-Neuron Responses after Changes in Task Contingencies during Trace Eyeblink Conditioning in Rabbits. ENeuro, 3(4). https://doi.org/10.1523/eneuro.0057-16.2016