We investigated the effect of activating a competing, artificially generated, neural representation on encoding of contextual fear memory in mice. We used a c-fos-based transgenic approach to introduce the hM(3)D(q) DREADD receptor (designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drug) into neurons naturally activated by sensory experience. Neural activity could then be specifically and inducibly increased in the hM(3)D(q)-expressing neurons by an exogenous ligand. When an ensemble of neurons for one context (ctxA) was artificially activated during conditioning in a distinct second context (ctxB), mice formed a hybrid memory representation. Reactivation of the artificially stimulated network within the conditioning context was required for retrieval of the memory, and the memory was specific for the spatial pattern of neurons artificially activated during learning. Similar stimulation impaired recall when not part of the initial conditioning.
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