Introduction: Learning does not occur in isolation, but often requires us to incorporate newly acquired information with previously established knowledge. To investigate the neural process by which this may occur, we trained macaques to learn the transitive relation between items and then subsequently incorporate new transitive relations across various branched paths, while recording from their ventral (vlPFC) and lateral (dlPFC) prefrontal cortices.
Methods: We designed a foraging task, in which Rhesus macaques learned the transitive relationship between different presented items (e.g., A>B>C>D>E). The monkeys began by learning initial B-C associations, called the ‘Stem’. After learning the “Stem,” the monkeys learned one of two “Branch” associations. In “Branch: Related" trials, in which the learned associations built upon the “Stem” (eg C>D or A>B). In the other, termed “Branch: Unrelated,” the new association was novel and did not build upon the stem (eg D>E).
Results: We find that both the vlPFC and dlPFC displayed changes in neural activity that correlated with learning. However, only changes in dlPFC activity distinctly responded to the incorporation of new information. At the network level, interaction between the two areas gradually increased when incorporating new information but decreased when acquiring new but unrelated information.
Conclusions: These findings reveal a ventral-dorsal functional circuit in the prefrontal cortex that may allow for the integration of new and old information. These findings are an important step in characterizing the pathology of learning disabilities, such as Autism and Executive Function Disorder.
Patient Care: The study describes the neurophysiology of a critical component of learning in the Prefrontal Cotex. This finding is an important step in understanding the pathology of learning disabilities, such as Autism and Executive Function Disorder, and identifying targets for treatments.
Learning Objectives: By the conclusion of this session, participants should be able to:
1. Understand how dlPFC and vlPFC activity differs when novel information is learned from when integrated information is learned
2. Contrast the activity of the dlPFC and vlPFC during learning integration
3. Appreciate how dlPFC and vlPFC communication is a unique component of learning integration