The importance of the hippocampus in declarative memory is limited to recently acquired memory, and remotely acquired memory is believed to be stored somewhere in the neocortex. However, it remains unknown how the memory network is reorganized from a hippocampus-dependent form into a neocortex-dependent one. We reported previously that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is important for this neocortex-dependent remote memory in rat trace eyeblink conditioning. Here, we investigate the involvement of NMDA receptors in the mPFC in this reorganization and determine the time window of their contribution using chronic infusion of an antagonist into the mPFC, specifically during the postlearning consolidation period. The rats with blockade of the mPFC NMDA receptors during the first 1 or 2 weeks after learning showed a marked impairment in memory retention measured 6 weeks after learning, but relearned normally with subsequent conditioning. In contrast, the same treatment had no effect if it was performed during the third to fourth weeks or during the first day just after learning. The specificity of NMDA receptor blockade was confirmed by the reduced long-term potentiation in the hippocampal-prefrontal pathway in these rats. These results suggest that successful establishment of remotely acquired memory requires activation of NMDA receptors in the mPFC during at least the initial week of the postlearning period. Such NMDA receptor-dependent processes may mediate the maturation of neocortical networks that underlies permanent memory storage and serve as a way to reorganize memory circuitry to the neocortex-dependent form.
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