We recorded neurons from the hippocampus of freely behaving rats during an auditory fear conditioning task. Rats received either paired or unpaired presentations of an auditory conditioned stimulus (CS) and an electric shock unconditioned stimulus (US). Hippocampal neurons (place and theta cells) acquired responses to the auditory CS in the paired but not in the unpaired group. After CS-US pairing, rhythmic firing of theta cells became synchronized to the onset of the CS. Conditioned responses of place cells were gated by their location-specific firing, so that after CS-US pairing, place cells responded to the CS only when the rat was within the cell's place field. These findings may help to elucidate how the hippocampus contributes to context-specific memory formation during associative learning.
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