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Imprinting and recalling cortical ensembles

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Science  12 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 691-694
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7560

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Building new networks in the brain

Donald Hebb's hypothesis that coactivation of neurons leads to the formation of ensembles of neurons has inspired neuroscientists for decades. The experimental creation of such ensembles has been technically challenging. Using two-photon optogenetic stimulation with single-cell resolution, Carrillo-Reid et al. discovered that recurrent activation of a group of neurons creates an ensemble that is imprinted in the brain circuitry. Activation of a single neuron can lead to recall of the entire ensemble in a phenomenon called pattern completion. The artificial ensemble persists over days and can be reactivated at later time points without interfering with endogenous circuitry.

Science, this issue p. 691

Abstract

Neuronal ensembles are coactive groups of neurons that may represent building blocks of cortical circuits. These ensembles could be formed by Hebbian plasticity, whereby synapses between coactive neurons are strengthened. Here we report that repetitive activation with two-photon optogenetics of neuronal populations from ensembles in the visual cortex of awake mice builds neuronal ensembles that recur spontaneously after being imprinted and do not disrupt preexisting ones. Moreover, imprinted ensembles can be recalled by single- cell stimulation and remain coactive on consecutive days. Our results demonstrate the persistent reconfiguration of cortical circuits by two-photon optogenetics into neuronal ensembles that can perform pattern completion.

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