Loss of function of the hippocampus or frontal cortex is associated with reduced performance on memory tasks, in which subjects are incidentally exposed to cues at specific places in the environment and are subsequently asked to recollect the location at which the cue was experienced. Here, we examined the roles of the rodent hippocampus and frontal cortex in cue-directed attention during encoding of memory for the location of a single incidentally experienced cue. During a spatial sensory preconditioning task, rats explored an elevated platform while an auditory cue was incidentally presented at one corner. The opposite corner acted as an unpaired control location. The rats demonstrated recollection of location by avoiding the paired corner after the auditory cue was in turn paired with shock. Damage to either the dorsal hippocampus or the frontal cortex impaired this memory ability. However, we also found that hippocampal lesions enhanced attention directed towards the cue during the encoding phase, while frontal cortical lesions reduced cue-directed attention. These results suggest that the deficit in spatial sensory preconditioning caused by frontal cortical damage may be mediated by inattention to the location of cues during the latent encoding phase, while deficits following hippocampal damage must be related to other mechanisms such as generation of neural plasticity.
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