Animals learn to choose a proper action among alternatives according to the circumstance. Through trial-and-error, animals improve their odds by making correct association between their behavioral choices and external stimuli. While there has been an extensive literature on the theory of learning, it is still unclear how individual neurons and a neural network adapt as learning progresses. In this dissertation, single units in the medial and lateral agranular (AGm and AGl) cortices were recorded as rats learned a directional choice task. The task required the rat to make a left/right side lever press if a light cue appeared on the left/right side of the interface panel. Behavior analysis showed that rat's movement parameters during performance of directional choices became stereotyped very quickly (2-3 days) while learning to solve the directional choice problem took weeks to occur. The entire learning process was further broken down to 3 stages, each having similar number of recording sessions (days). Single unit based firing rate analysis revealed that 1) directional rate modulation was observed in both cortices; 2) the averaged mean rate between left and right trials in the neural ensemble each day did not change significantly among the three learning stages; 3) the rate difference between left and right trials of the ensemble did not change significantly either. Besides, for either left or right trials, the trial-to-trial firing variability of single neurons did not change significantly over the three stages. To explore the spatiotemporal neural pattern of the recorded ensemble, support vector machines (SVMs) were constructed each day to decode the direction of choice in single trials. Improved classification accuracy indicated enhanced discriminability between neural patterns of left and right choices as learning progressed. When using a restricted Boltzmann machine (RBM) model to extract features from neural activity patterns, results further supported the idea that neural firing patterns adapted during the three learning stages to facilitate the neural codes of directional choices. Put together, these findings suggest a spatiotemporal neural coding scheme in a rat AGl and AGm neural ensemble that may be responsible for and contributing to learning the directional choice task.
- Exploration of neural coding in rat's agranular medial and agranular lateral cortices during learning of a directional choice task