Complementary task representations in hippocampus and prefrontal cortex for generalizing the structure of problems.
Samborska V., Butler JL., Walton ME., Behrens TEJ., Akam T.
Humans and other animals effortlessly generalize prior knowledge to solve novel problems, by abstracting common structure and mapping it onto new sensorimotor specifics. To investigate how the brain achieves this, in this study, we trained mice on a series of reversal learning problems that shared the same structure but had different physical implementations. Performance improved across problems, indicating transfer of knowledge. Neurons in medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) maintained similar representations across problems despite their different sensorimotor correlates, whereas hippocampal (dCA1) representations were more strongly influenced by the specifics of each problem. This was true for both representations of the events that comprised each trial and those that integrated choices and outcomes over multiple trials to guide an animal's decisions. These data suggest that prefrontal cortex and hippocampus play complementary roles in generalization of knowledge: PFC abstracts the common structure among related problems, and hippocampus maps this structure onto the specifics of the current situation.