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Keywords:

  • immediate early genes;
  • hippocampus;
  • dentate gyrus;
  • learning and memory;
  • synaptic plasticity;
  • place fields

Abstract

After a spatial behavioral experience, hippocampal CA1 pyramidal cells express the activity-regulated, immediate early gene Arc in an environment-specific manner, and in similar proportions (˜40%) to cells exhibiting electrophysiologically recorded place fields under similar conditions. Theoretical accounts of the function of the fascia dentata suggest that it plays a role in pattern separation during encoding. The hypothesis that the dentate gyrus (DG) uses a sparse, and thus more orthogonal, coding scheme has been supported by the observation that, while granule cells do exhibit place fields, most are silent in a given environment. To quantify the degree of sparsity of DG coding and its corresponding ability to generate distinct environmental representations, behaviorally induced Arc expression was assessed using in situ hybridization coupled with confocal microscopy. The proportion of Arc+ cells in the “upper blade” of the fascia dentata (i.e., the portion that abuts CA1) increased in an environment-specific fashion, approximately 4-fold above cage-control activity, after behavioral exploration. Surprisingly, cells in the lower blade of the fascia dentata, which are capable of expressing Arc following electrical stimulation, exhibited virtually no behaviorally-induced Arc expression. This difference was confirmed using “line scan” analyses, which also revealed no patterns or gradients of activity along the upper blade of the DG. The expression of Arc in the upper blade was quantitatively similar after exploring familiar or novel environments. When animals explored two different environments, separated by 20 min, a new group of cells responded to the second environment, whereas two separated experiences in the same environment did not activate a new set of granular cells. Thus, granule cells generate distinct codes for different environments. These findings suggest differential contribution of upper and lower blade neurons to plastic networks and confirm the hypothesis that the DG uses sparse coding that may facilitate orthogonalization of information. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.