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Encoding of temporal intervals in the rat hindlimb sensorimotor cortex


The gradual buildup of neural activity over experimentally imposed delay periods, termed climbing activity, is well documented and is a potential mechanism by which interval time is encoded by distributed cortico-thalamico-striatal networks in the brain. Additionally, when multiple delay periods are incorporated, this activity has been shown to scale its rate of climbing proportional to the delay period. However, it remains unclear whether these patterns of activity occur within areas of motor cortex dedicated to hindlimb movement. Moreover, the effects of behavioral training (e.g., motor tasks) under different reward conditions but with similar behavioral output are not well addressed. To address this, we recorded activity from the hindlimb sensorimotor cortex (HLSMC) of two groups of rats performing a skilled hindlimb press task. In one group, rats were trained only to a make a valid press within a finite window after cue presentation for reward (non-interval trained, nIT; n = 5), while rats in the second group were given duration-specific cues in which they had to make presses of either short or long duration to receive reward (interval trained, IT; n = 6). Using perievent time histogram (PETH) analyses, we show that cells recorded from both groups showed climbing activity during the task in similar proportions (35% IT and 47% nIT), however, only climbing activity from IT rats was temporally scaled to press duration. Furthermore, using single trial decoding techniques (Wiener filter), we show that press duration can be inferred using climbing activity from IT animals (R = 0.61) significantly better than nIT animals (R = 0.507, p < 0.01), suggesting IT animals encode press duration through temporally scaled climbing activity. Thus, if temporal intervals are behaviorally relevant then the activity of climbing neurons is temporally scaled to encode the passage of time.

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