In a rest period immediately after a task, neurons in the hippocampus, neocortex, and striatum exhibit spatiotemporal correlation patterns resembling those observed during the task. This reactivation has been proposed as a neurophysiological substrate for memory consolidation. We provide new evidence that rodent ventral tegmental area (VTA) neurons are selective for different types of food stimuli and that stimulus-sensitive neurons strongly reactivate during the rest period following a task that involved those stimuli. Reactivation occurred primarily during slow wave sleep and during quiet awakeness. In these experiments, VTA reactivation patterns were uncompressed and occurred at the firing rate level, rather than on a spike-to-spike basis. Mildly aversive stimuli were reactivated more often than positive ones. The VTA is a pivotal structure involved in the perception and prediction of reward and stimulus salience and is a key neuromodulatory system involved in synaptic plasticity. These results suggest new ways in which dopaminergic signals could contribute to the biophysical mechanisms of selective, system-wide, memory consolidation, and reconsolidation during sleep.
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