Selected Publications

Abstract: Neurons activated by learning have been ascribed the unique potential to encode memory, but the functional contribution of discrete cell types remains poorly understood. In particular, it is unclear whether learning engages specific GABAergic interneurons and, if so, whether they differ functionally from interneurons recruited by other experiences. Here, we show that fear conditioning activates a heterogeneous neuronal population in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) that is largely comprised of somatostatin-expressing interneurons (SST-INs). Using intersectional genetic approaches, we demonstrate that fear-learning-activated SST-INs exhibit distinct circuit properties and are selectively reactivated to mediate cue-evoked memory expression. In contrast, an orthogonal population of SST-INs activated by morphine experience exerts opposing control over fear and supports reward-like motivational effects. These results outline an important role for discrete subsets of GABAergic cells in emotional learning and point to an unappreciated capacity for functional specialization among SST-INs.

Abstract: The paradigm of fear conditioning is largely responsible for our current understanding of how memories are encoded at the cellular level. Its most fundamental underlying mechanism is considered to be plasticity of synaptic connections between excitatory projection neurons (PNs). However, recent studies suggest that while PNs execute critical memory functions, their activity at key stages of learning and recall is extensively orchestrated by a diverse array of GABAergic interneurons (INs). Here we review the contributions of genetically-defined INs to processing of threat-related stimuli in fear conditioning, with a particular focus on how synaptic interactions within interconnected networks of INs modulates PN activity through both inhibition and disinhibition. Furthermore, we discuss accumulating evidence that GABAergic microcircuits are an important locus for synaptic plasticity during fear learning and therefore a viable substrate for long-term memory. These findings suggest that further investigation of INs could unlock unique conceptual insights into the organization and function of fear memory networks.

The role of intrinsic excitability in the evolution of memory: Significance in memory allocation, consolidation, and updating
Chen LCummings KA, Mau W, Zaki Y, Dong Z, Rabinowitz S, Clem RL, Shuman T, and Cai DJ
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (2020)

Abstract: Memory is a dynamic process that is continuously regulated by both synaptic and intrinsic neural mechanisms. While numerous studies have shown that synaptic plasticity is important in various types and phases of learning and memory, neuronal intrinsic excitability has received relatively less attention, especially regarding the dynamic nature of memory. In this review, we present evidence demonstrating the importance of intrinsic excitability in memory allocation, consolidation, and updating. We also consider the intricate interaction between intrinsic excitability and synaptic plasticity in shaping memory, supporting both memory stability and flexibility.

Abstract: Theories stipulate that memories are encoded within networks of cortical projection neurons. Conversely, GABAergic interneurons are thought to function primarily to inhibit projection neurons and thereby impose network gain control, an important but purely modulatory role. Here we show in male mice that associative fear learning potentiates synaptic transmission and cue-specific activity of medial prefrontal cortex somatostatin (SST) interneurons and that activation of these cells controls both memory encoding and expression. Furthermore, the synaptic organization of SST and parvalbumin interneurons provides a potential circuit basis for SST interneuron-evoked disinhibition of medial prefrontal cortex output neurons and recruitment of remote brain regions associated with defensive behavior. These data suggest that, rather than constrain mnemonic processing, potentiation of SST interneuron activity represents an important causal mechanism for conditioned fear.