Virtual water maze learning in human increases functional connectivity between posterior hippocampus and dorsal caudate.
Woolley DG., Mantini D., Coxon JP., D'Hooge R., Swinnen SP., Wenderoth N.
Recent work has demonstrated that functional connectivity between remote brain regions can be modulated by task learning or the performance of an already well-learned task. Here, we investigated the extent to which initial learning and stable performance of a spatial navigation task modulates functional connectivity between subregions of hippocampus and striatum. Subjects actively navigated through a virtual water maze environment and used visual cues to learn the position of a fixed spatial location. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were collected before and after virtual water maze navigation in two scan sessions conducted 1 week apart, with a behavior-only training session in between. There was a large significant reduction in the time taken to intercept the target location during scan session 1 and a small significant reduction during the behavior-only training session. No further reduction was observed during scan session 2. This indicates that scan session 1 represented initial learning and scan session 2 represented stable performance. We observed an increase in functional connectivity between left posterior hippocampus and left dorsal caudate that was specific to scan session 1. Importantly, the magnitude of the increase in functional connectivity was correlated with offline gains in task performance. Our findings suggest cooperative interaction occurs between posterior hippocampus and dorsal caudate during awake rest following the initial phase of spatial navigation learning. Furthermore, we speculate that the increase in functional connectivity observed during awake rest after initial learning might reflect consolidation-related processing.