Abstract: Studies of amnesic patients and animal models support a systems consolidation model, which posits that explicit memories formed in hippocampus are transferred to cortex over time1-6. Prelimbic cortex (PL), a subregion of the medial prefrontal cortex, is required for the expression of learned fear memories from hours after learning until weeks later7-12. While some studies suggested that prefrontal cortical neurons active during learning are required for memory retrieval13-15, others provided evidence for ongoing cortical circuit reorganization during memory consolidation10,16,17. It has been difficult to causally relate the activity of cortical neurons during learning or recent memory retrieval to their function in remote memory, in part due to a lack of tools18. Here we show that a new version of 'targeted recombination in active populations', TRAP2, has enhanced efficiency over the past version, providing brain-wide access to neurons activated by a particular experience. Using TRAP2, we accessed PL neurons activated during fear conditioning or 1-, 7-, or 14-day memory retrieval, and assessed their contributions to 28-day remote memory. We found that PL neurons TRAPed at later retrieval times were more likely to be reactivated during remote memory retrieval, and more effectively promoted remote memory retrieval. Furthermore, reducing PL activity during learning blunted the ability of TRAPed PL neurons to promote remote memory retrieval. Finally, a series of whole-brain analyses identified a set of cortical regions that were densely innervated by memory-TRAPed PL neurons and preferentially activated by PL neurons TRAPed during 14-day retrieval, and whose activity co-varied with PL and correlated with memory specificity. These findings support a model in which PL ensembles underlying remote memory undergo dynamic changes during the first two weeks after learning, which manifest as increased functional recruitment of cortical targets.

Authors: Laura A DeNardo, Cindy D Liu, William E Allen, Eliza L Adams, Drew Friedmann, Ehsan Dadgar-Kiani, Lisa Fu, Casey J Guenthner, Jin Hyung Lee, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Liqun Luo