Multiple memory systems are distinguished by different sets of neuronal circuits and operating principles optimized to solve different problems across mammalian species (Tulving and Schacter, 1994). When a rat selects an arm in a plus maze, for example, the choice can be guided by distinct neural systems (White and Wise, 1999) that encode different relationships among perceived stimuli, actions, and reward. Thus, egocentric or stimulus-response associations require striatal circuits, whereas spatial or episodic learning requires hippocampal circuits (Packard et al., 1989). Although thesememorysystems function in parallel (Packard and McGaugh, 1996), they can also interact competitively or synergistically (Kim and Ragozzino, 2005). The neuronal mechanisms that coordinate these multiple memory systems are not fully known, but converging evidence suggests that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is central. The PFC is crucial for abstract, rule-guided behavior in primates and for switching rapidly between memory strategies in rats. We now report that rat medial PFC neuronal activity predicts switching between hippocampus- and caudate-dependent memory strategies. Prelimbic (PL) and infralimbic (IL) neuronal activity changed as rats switched memory strategies even as the rats performed identical behaviors but did not change when rats learned new contingencies using the same strategy. PL dynamics anticipated learning performance whereas IL lagged, suggesting that the two regions help initiate and establish new strategies, respectively. These neuronal dynamics suggest that the PFC contributes to the coordination of memory strategies by integrating the predictive relationships among stimuli, actions, and reward.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7208-7219
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number22
StatePublished - 3 Jun 2009


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