Training-dependent associative learning induced neocortical structural plasticity: A trace eyeblink conditioning analysis

Lily S. Chau, Alesia V. Prakapenka, Liridon Zendeli, Ashley S. Davis, Roberto Galvez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies utilizing general learning and memory tasks have suggested the importance of neocortical structural plasticity for memory consolidation. However, these learning tasks typically result in learning of multiple different tasks over several days of training, making it difficult to determine the synaptic time course mediating each learning event. The current study used trace-eyeblink conditioning to determine the time course for neocortical spine modification during learning. With eyeblink conditioning, subjects are presented with a neutral, conditioned stimulus (CS) paired with a salient, unconditioned stimulus (US) to elicit an unconditioned response (UR). With multiple CS-US pairings, subjects learn to associate the CS with the US and exhibit a conditioned response (CR) when presented with the CS. Trace conditioning is when there is a stimulus free interval between the CS and the US. Utilizing trace-eyeblink conditioning with whisker stimulation as the CS (whisker-trace-eyeblink: WTEB), previous findings have shown that primary somatosensory (barrel) cortex is required for both acquisition and retention of the trace-association. Additionally, prior findings demonstrated that WTEB acquisition results in an expansion of the cytochrome oxidase whisker representation and synaptic modification in layer IV of barrel cortex. To further explore these findings and determine the time course for neocortical learning-induced spine modification, the present study utilized WTEB conditioning to examine Golgi-Cox stained neurons in layer IV of barrel cortex. Findings from this study demonstrated a training-dependent spine proliferation in layer IV of barrel cortex during trace associative learning. Furthermore, findings from this study showing that filopodia-like spines exhibited a similar pattern to the overall spine density further suggests that reorganization of synaptic contacts set the foundation for learning-induced neocortical modifications through the different neocortical layers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere95317
JournalPloS one
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 23 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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