The hippocampus is thought to have a critical role in episodic memory by incorporating the sensory input of an experience onto a spatial framework embodied by place cells. Although the formation and stability of place fields requires exploration, the interaction between discrete exploratory behaviors and the specific, immediate and persistent modifications of neural representations required by episodic memory has not been established. We recorded place cells in rats and found that increased neural activity during exploratory head-scanning behaviors predicted the formation and potentiation of place fields on the next pass through that location, regardless of environmental familiarity and across multiple testing days. These results strongly suggest that, during the attentive behaviors that punctuate exploration, place cell activity mediates the one-trial encoding of ongoing experiences necessary for episodic memory.
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