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The role of the dentate gyrus in the formation of contextual representations



The hippocampus is involved in encoding and integrating contextual information. Recently, it has been suggested that the dorsal dentate gyrus (dDG) hippocampal subregion may mediate the formation of contextual representations of the spatial environment through a conjunctive encoding process whereby incoming multimodal information is integrated into a single higher-order representation. Despite anatomical evidence in support of this claim, behavioral evidence is limited. Therefore, a contextual associative learning paradigm was used to determine whether the dDG supports the formation of integrated contextual representations. Male Long-Evans rats were randomly assigned as controls or to receive bilateral intracranial infusions of colchicine into the dDG. Following recovery from surgery, each rat was tested on an appetitive task that required animals to form an association between a cue (odor) and a context to receive a food reward. Each rat received 10 trials per day and was tested for 10 consecutive days. Upon completion of testing, animals were tested on an additional two-choice olfactory and contextual discrimination task. The testing order was counterbalanced across animals. Results showed that control animals successfully acquired the contextual associative learning task for olfactory stimuli as indicated by improved performance across the 10 testing days. In contrast, animals with dDG lesions were impaired in the ability to acquire the odor-context associations. Results from follow-up odor and context discrimination tests indicated that both groups acquired the discriminations at similar rates. Therefore, it is unlikely that deficits in performance on the contextual associative learning task were due to an inability to discriminate between odors or contexts. The present findings provide further support for DG involvement in the formation of conjunctive contextual representations. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.