To understand how function arises from the interactions between neurons, it is necessary to use methods that allow the monitoring of brain activity at the single-neuron, single-spike level and the targeted manipulation of the diverse neuron types selectively in a closed-loop manner. Large-scale recordings of neuronal spiking combined with optogenetic perturbation of identified individual neurons has emerged as a suitable method for such tasks in behaving animals. To fully exploit the potential power of these methods, multiple steps of technical innovation are needed. We highlight the current state-of-the-art in electrophysiological recording methods, combined with optogenetics, and discuss directions for progress. In addition, we point to areas where rapid development is in progress and discuss topics where near-term improvements are possible and needed.
Neuromechanical principles define the properties and problems that shape neural solutions for movement. Although the theoretical and experimental evidence is debated, we present arguments for consistent structures in motor patterns, i.e. motor modules, that are neuromechanical solutions for movement particular to an individual and shaped by evolutionary, developmental, and learning processes. As a consequence, motor modules may be useful in assessing sensorimotor deficits specific to an individual, and define targets for the rational development of novel rehabilitation therapies that enhance neural plasticity and sculpt motor recovery. We propose that motor module organization is disrupted and may be improved by therapy in spinal cord injury, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. Recent studies provide insights into the yet unknown underlying neural mechanisms of motor modules, motor impairment and motor learning, and may lead to better understanding of the causal nature of modularity and its underlying neural substrates.
Circadian rhythms control a variety of physiological processes, but whether they may also time brain development remains largely unknown. Here, we show that circadian clock genes control the onset of critical period plasticity in the neocortex. Within visual cortex of Clock-deficient mice, the emergence of circadian gene expression was dampened, and the maturation of inhibitory parvalbumin (PV)-cell networks slowed. Loss of visual acuity in response to brief monocular deprivation was concomitantly delayed and rescued by direct enhancement of GABAergic transmission. Conditional deletion of Clock or Bmal1 only within PV-cells recapitulated the results of total Clock-deficient mice. Unique downstream gene sets controlling synaptic events and cellular homeostasis for proper maturation and maintenance were found to be regulated by CLOCK specifically within PV-cells. These data demonstrate a developmental role for circadian clock genes outside the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which may contribute mis-timed brain plasticity in associated mental disorders.
Unmodified neurons can be directly stimulated with light to produce action potentials, but such techniques have lacked localization of the delivered light energy. Here we show that gold nanoparticles can be conjugated to high-avidity ligands for a variety of cellular targets. Once bound to a neuron, these particles transduce millisecond pulses of light into heat which changes membrane capacitance, depolarizing the cell and eliciting action potentials. Compared to non-functionalized nanoparticles, ligand-conjugated nanoparticles highly resist convective washout, and enable photothermal stimulation with lower delivered energy and resulting temperature increase. Ligands targeting three different membrane proteins were tested; all showed similar activity and washout resistance. This suggests that many types of ligands can be bound to nanoparticles, preserving ligand and nanoparticle function, and that many different cell phenotypes can be targeted by appropriate choice of ligand. The findings have applications as an alternative to optogenetics, and potentially for therapies involving neuronal photostimulation.
Most behaviors are generated in three steps: sensing the external world, processing that information to instruct decision-making, and producing a motor action. Sensory areas, especially primary sensory cortices, have long been held to be involved only in the first step of this sequence. Here, we develop a visually-cued interval timing task that requires rats to decide when to perform an action following a brief visual stimulus. Using single-unit recordings and optogenetics in this task, we show that activity generated by the primary visual cortex (V1) embodies the target interval and may instruct the decision to time the action on a trial-by-trial basis. A spiking neuronal model of local recurrent connections in V1 produces neural responses that predict and drive the timing of future actions, rationalizing our observations. Our data demonstrate that the primary visual cortex may contribute to the instruction of visually-cued timed actions.
Mutations in superoxide dismutase (SOD1) cause amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of motor neurons and accompanied by accumulation of misfolded SOD1 onto the cytoplasmic faces of intracellular organelles, including mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). Using inhibition of misfolded SOD1 deposition onto mitochondria as an assay, a chaperone activity abundant in non-neuronal tissues is now purified and identified to be the multifunctional macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF), whose activities include an ATP-independent protein folding chaperone. Purified MIF is shown to directly inhibit mutant SOD1 misfolding. Elevating MIF in neuronal cells suppresses accumulation of misfolded SOD1 and its association with mitochondria and ER and extends survival of mutant SOD1-expressing motor neurons. Accumulated MIF protein is identified to be low in motor neurons, implicating correspondingly low chaperone activity as a component of vulnerability to mutant SOD1 misfolding and supporting therapies to enhance intracellular MIF chaperone activity.
Although the coding transformation between visual thalamus and cortex has been known for over 50 years, whether a similar transformation occurs between auditory thalamus and cortex has remained elusive. Such a transformation may occur for time-varying sounds, such as music or speech. Most subcortical neurons explicitly encode the temporal structure of sounds with the temporal structure of their activity, but many auditory cortical neurons instead use a rate code. The mechanisms for this transformation from temporal code to rate code have remained unknown. Here we report that the membrane potential of rat auditory cortical neurons can show stimulus synchronization to rates up to 500 Hz, even when the spiking output does not. Synaptic inputs to rate-coding neurons arose in part from temporal-coding neurons but were transformed by voltage-dependent properties and push-pull excitatory-inhibitory interactions. This suggests that the transformation from temporal to rate code can be observed within individual cortical neurons.
Organismal development requires the precise coordination of genetic programs to regulate cell fate and function. MEF2 transcription factors (TFs) play essential roles in this process but how these broadly expressed factors contribute to the generation of specific cell types during development is poorly understood. Here we show that despite being expressed in virtually all mammalian tissues, in the retina MEF2D binds to retina-specific enhancers and controls photoreceptor cell development. MEF2D achieves specificity by cooperating with a retina-specific factor CRX, which recruits MEF2D away from canonical MEF2 binding sites, and redirects it to retina-specific enhancers that lack the consensus MEF2-binding sequence. Once bound to retina-specific enhancers, MEF2D and CRX co-activate the expression of photoreceptor-specific genes that are critical for retinal function. These findings demonstrate that broadly expressed TFs acquire specific functions through competitive recruitment to enhancers by tissue-specific TFs, and through selective activation of these enhancers to regulate tissue-specific genes.
Many daily behaviors require us to actively focus on the current task and ignore all other distractions. Yet, ignoring everything else might hinder the ability to discover new ways to achieve the same goal. Here, we studied the neural mechanisms that support the spontaneous change to better strategies while an established strategy is executed.
Multivariate neuroimaging analysis showed that before the spontaneous change to an alternative strategy, medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) encoded information that was irrelevant for the current strategy but necessary for the later strategy. Importantly, this neural effect was related to future behavioral changes: information encoding in MPFC was changed only in participants who eventually switched their strategy and started before the actual strategy change. This allowed us to predict spontaneous strategy shifts ahead of time. These findings suggest that MPFC might internally simulate alternative strategies and sheds new light on the organization of PFC.
Single neuron actions and interactions are the sine qua non of brain function, and nearly all diseases and injuries of the central nervous system trace their clinical sequelae to neuronal dysfunction or failure. Remarkably, discussion of neuronal activity is largely absent in clinical neuroscience. Advances in neurotechnology and computational capabilities, accompanied by shifts in theoretical frameworks, have led to renewed interest in the information represented by single neurons. Using direct interfaces with the nervous system, millisecond-scale information will soon be extracted from single neurons in clinical environments, supporting personalized treatment of neurologic and psychiatric disease. In this review we focus on single neuronal activity in restoring communication and motor control in patients suffering from devastating neurological injuries. We also explore the single neuron's role in epilepsy and movement disorders, surgical anesthesia, and in cognitive processes disrupted in neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disease. Finally, we speculate on how technological advances will revolutionize neurotherapeutics.
Stem cell-based therapies hold considerable promise for many currently devastating neurological disorders. Substantial progress has been made in the derivation of disease-relevant human donor cell populations. Behavioral data in relevant animal models of disease have demonstrated therapeutic efficacy for several cell-based approaches. Consequently, GMP grade cell products are currently being developed for first in human clinical trials in select disorders. Despite the therapeutic promise, the presumed mechanism of action of donor cell populations often remains insufficiently validated. It depends greatly on the properties of the transplanted cell type and the underlying host pathology. Several new technologies have become available to probe mechanisms of action in real time and to manipulate in vivo cell function and integration to enhance therapeutic efficacy. Results from such studies generate crucial insight into the nature of brain repair that can be achieved today and push the boundaries of what may be possible in the future.
During the first 100 years of Alzheimer's disease research, this devastating and intractable disorder has been characterized at the clinical, histological, and molecular levels. Nevertheless, many key mechanistic questions remain unanswered. Here we will emphasize the importance of the cell biology of Alzheimer's disease, reviewing the relevant literature that has expanded our mechanistic understanding, with a particular focus on pathways regulating protein sorting. Accumulated evidence indicates that sorting pathways may be uniquely vulnerable to disease pathogenesis, and recent studies have begun to reveal disease-related defects in the regulation of protein sorting.
Habituation represents a fundamental form of learning, yet the underlying molecular genetic mechanisms are not well defined. Here we report on a genome-wide genetic screen, coupled with whole genome sequencing, that identified 14 zebrafish startle habituation mutants including mutants of the vertebrate specific gene pregnancy associated plasma protein-aa (pappaa). PAPP-AA encodes an extracellular metalloprotease known to increase IGF bioavailability thereby enhancing IGF receptor signaling. We find that pappaa is expressed by startle circuit neurons, and expression of wildtype, but not a metalloprotease-inactive version of pappaa restores habituation in pappaa mutants. Furthermore, acutely inhibiting IGF1R function in wild-type reduces habituation, while activation of IGF1R downstream effectors in pappaa mutants restores habituation, demonstrating that pappaa promotes learning by acutely and locally increasing IGF bioavailability. In sum, our results define the first functional gene set for habituation learning in a vertebrate, and identify PAPPAA-regulated IGF signaling as a novel mechanism regulating habituation learning.
Zebrafish; habituation; learning; IGFR; startle; pyruvate carboxylase; pregnancy associated plasma protein
Growing evidence indicates that non-neuronal mutant huntingtin toxicity plays an important role in Huntington’s disease (HD); however, whether and how mutant huntingtin affects oligodendrocytes, which are vitally important for neural function and axonal integrity, remain unclear. We first verified the presence of mutant huntingtin in oligodendrocytes in HD140Q knock-in mice. We then established transgenic mice (PLP-150Q) that selectively express mutant huntingtin in oligodendrocytes. PLP-150Q mice show progressive neurological symptoms and early death, as well as age-dependent demyelination and reduced expression of myelin genes that are downstream of myelin regulatory factor (MYRF or MRF), a transcriptional regulator that specifically activates and maintains the expression of myelin genes in mature oligodendrocytes. Consistently, mutant huntingtin binds abnormally to MYRF and affects its transcription activity. Our findings suggest that dysfunction of mature oligodendrocytes is involved in HD pathogenesis and may also make a good therapeutic target.
A fundamental challenge in studying the frontal lobe is to parcellate this cortex into ‘natural’ functional modules despite the absence of topographic maps, which are so helpful in primary sensory areas. Here we show that unsupervised clustering algorithms, applied to 96-channel array recordings from prearcuate gyrus, reveal spatially segregated sub-networks that remain stable across behavioral contexts. Looking for natural groupings of neurons based on response similarities, we discovered that the recorded area includes at least two spatially segregated sub-networks that differentially represent behavioral choice and reaction time. Importantly, these sub-networks are detectable during different behavioral states, and surprisingly, are defined better by ‘common noise’ than task-evoked responses. Our parcellation process works well on ‘spontaneous’ neural activity, and thus bears strong resemblance to the identification of ‘resting state’ networks in fMRI datasets. Our results demonstrate a powerful new tool for identifying cortical sub-networks by objective classification of simultaneously recorded electrophysiological activity.
The ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) was thought to be essential for coping with threat, although its circuit mechanism remains unclear. To investigate this, we optogenetically activated steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1)-expressing neurons in the dorsomedial and central part of VMH (VMHdm/c), and observed a range of context dependent somatomotor and autonomic responses resembling animals' natural defensive behaviors. By activating independent pathways emanating from VMHdm/c, we demonstrated that VMHdm/c projection to the dorsolateral periaqueductal gray (dlPAG) induces inflexible immobility, while the VMHdm/c to anterior hypothalamic nucleus (AHN) pathway promotes avoidance. Furthermore, consistent with the behavior changes induced by VMH to AHN pathway activation, direct activation of the AHN elicited avoidance and escape jumping but not immobility. Finally, retrograde tracing studies revealed that nearly 50% of PAG- projecting VMHdm/c neurons send collateral projection to the AHN and vice versa. Thus, VMHdm/c neurons employ a one-to-many wiring configuration to orchestrate multiple aspects of defensive behaviors.
Circuit computation requires precision in the timing, extent, and synchrony of principal cell (PC) firing that is largely enforced by parvalbumin-expressing, fast-spiking interneurons (PVFSIs). To reliably coordinate network activity PVFSIs exhibit specialized synaptic and membrane properties that promote efficient afferent recruitment such as expression of high-conductance, rapidly gating, GluA4-containing AMPA receptors (AMPARs). We found that PVFSIs upregulate GluA4 during the second postnatal week coincident with increases in the AMPAR clustering proteins NPTX2 and NPTXR. Moreover, GluA4 is dramatically reduced in NPTX2−/−/NPTXR−/− mice with consequent reductions in PVFSI AMPAR function. Early postnatal NPTX2−/−/NPTXR−/− mice exhibit delayed circuit maturation with a prolonged critical period permissive for giant depolarizing potentials. Juvenile NPTX2−/−/NPTXR−/− mice display reduced feedforward inhibition yielding a circuit deficient in rhythmogenesis and prone to epileptiform discharges. Our findings demonstrate an essential role for NPTXs in controlling network dynamics highlighting potential therapeutic targets for disorders with inhibition/excitation imbalances such as schizophrenia.
Stroke remains a significant problem despite decades of work on neuroprotective strategies. NMDA receptor (NMDAR) antagonists are neuroprotective in preclinical models, but have been clinically unsuccessful, in part due to side effects. Here we describe a prototypical GluN2B-selective antagonist with an IC50 value that is 10-fold more potent at acidic pH 6.9 associated with ischemic tissue compared to pH 7.6, a value close to the pH in healthy brain tissue. This should maximize neuroprotection in ischemic tissue while minimizing on-target side-effects associated with NMDAR blockade in non-injured brain regions. We have determined the mechanism underlying pH-dependent inhibition and demonstrate the utility of this approach in vivo. We also identify dicarboxylate dimers as a novel proton sensor in proteins. These results provide insight into the molecular basis of pH-dependent neuroprotective NMDAR block, which could be beneficial in a wide range of neurological insults associated with tissue acidification.
NMDA receptors; GluN2B selective antagonists; NR2B; neuroprotection; pH; proton; ischemia; PCP; MCAo
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most prevalent form of dementia worldwide and is an emerging global epidemic. It is characterized by an imbalance between production and clearance of amyloid β (Aβ) and tau proteins. Oligomeric forms of Aβ and tau are believed to be the most toxic. Dramatic results from AD animal models showed great promise for active and passive immune therapies targeting Aβ. However, there is very limited evidence in human studies of clinical benefits from these approaches. Immunotherapies targeting only tau pathology have had some success but are limited so far to mouse models. The majority of current methods is based on immunological targeting of a self-protein; hence, benefits needed to be balanced against risks of stimulating excessive auto-immune toxic inflammation. For greater efficacy the next generation of vaccines will need to focus more on concurrently targeting all the intermediate toxic conformers of oligomeric Aβ and tau species.
amyloid β; tau; vaccination; immunotherapy; immunomodulation; Alzheimer’s disease; transgenic mice
In mammals, few retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) survive following axotomy and even fewer regenerate axons. This could reflect differential extrinsic influences or the existence of subpopulations that vary in their responses to injury. We tested these alternatives by comparing responses of molecularly distinct subsets of mouse RGCs to axotomy. Survival rates varied dramatically among subtypes, with alpha-RGCs (αRGCs) surviving preferentially. Among survivors, αRGCs accounted for nearly all regeneration following down-regulation of PTEN, which activates the mTOR pathway. αRGCs have uniquely high mTOR signaling levels among RGCs and also selectively express osteopontin (OPN) and receptors for the growth factor, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Administration of OPN plus IGF-1 promotes regeneration as effectively as down-regulation of PTEN; however, regeneration is still confined to αRGCs. Our results reveal dramatic subtype-specific differences in the ability of RGCs to survive and regenerate following injury, and they identify promising agents for promoting axonal regeneration.
Wnt signaling plays an essential role in developmental and regenerative myelination of the CNS; however, contributions of proximal regulators of the Wnt receptor complex to these processes remain undefined. To identify components of the Wnt pathway that regulate these processes, we applied a multifaceted discovery platform and found that Daam2-PIP5K comprise a novel pathway regulating Wnt signaling and myelination. Using dorsal patterning of the chick spinal cord we found that Daam2 promotes Wnt signaling and receptor complex formation through PIP5K-PIP2. Analysis of Daam2 function in oligodendrocytes (OLs) revealed that it suppresses OL differentiation during development, after white matter injury (WMI), and is expressed in human white matter lesions. These findings suggest a pharmacological strategy to inhibit Daam2-PIP5K function, application of which stimulates remyelination after WMI. Put together, our studies integrate information from multiple systems to identify a novel regulatory pathway for Wnt signaling and potential therapeutic target for WMI.
Abnormalities in GABAergic interneurons, particularly fast-spiking interneurons (FSINs) that generate gamma (γ; ~30-120 Hz) oscillations, are hypothesized to disrupt prefrontal cortex (PFC)-dependent cognition in schizophrenia. Although γ rhythms are abnormal in schizophrenia, it remains unclear whether they directly influence cognition. Mechanisms underlying schizophrenia's typical post-adolescent onset also remain elusive. We addressed these issues using mice heterozygous for Dlx5/6, which regulate GABAergic interneuron development. In Dlx5/6+/− mice, FSINs become abnormal following adolescence, coinciding with the onset of cognitive inflexibility and deficient task-evoked γ oscillations. Inhibiting PFC interneurons in control mice reproduced these deficits, whereas stimulating them at γ-frequencies restored cognitive flexibility in adult Dlx5/6+/− mice. These pro-cognitive effects were frequency-specific and persistent. These findings elucidate a mechanism whereby abnormal FSIN development may contribute to the post-adolescent onset of schizophrenia endophenotypes. Furthermore, they demonstrate a causal, potentially therapeutic, role for PFC interneuron-driven gamma oscillations in cognitive domains at the core of schizophrenia.
Memories are stored in the fan-out fan-in neural architectures of the mammalian cerebellum and hippocampus and the insect mushroom bodies. However, whereas key plasticity occurs at glutamatergic synapses in mammals, the neurochemistry of the memory-storing mushroom body Kenyon cell output synapses is unknown. Here we demonstrate a role for acetylcholine (ACh) in Drosophila. Kenyon cells express the ACh-processing proteins ChAT and VAChT, and reducing their expression impairs learned olfactory-driven behavior. Local ACh application, or direct Kenyon cell activation, evokes activity in mushroom body output neurons (MBONs). MBON activation depends on VAChT expression in Kenyon cells and is blocked by ACh receptor antagonism. Furthermore, reducing nicotinic ACh receptor subunit expression in MBONs compromises odor-evoked activation and redirects odor-driven behavior. Lastly, peptidergic corelease enhances ACh-evoked responses in MBONs, suggesting an interaction between the fast- and slow-acting transmitters. Therefore, olfactory memories in Drosophila are likely stored as plasticity of cholinergic synapses.
•Mushroom body Kenyon cell function requires ChAT and VAChT expression•Kenyon cell-released acetylcholine drives mushroom body output neurons•Blocking nicotinic receptors impairs mushroom body output neuron activation•Acetylcholine interacts with coreleased neuropeptide
Fruit fly memory involves plasticity of mushroom body synapses. Barnstedt et al. identified acetylcholine as the mushroom body neurotransmitter. Mushroom body output neuron activation requires nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. Impaired receptor function reduces physiological responses and alters odor-driven behavior.
Complex cognitive processes require sophisticated local processing but also interactions between distant brain regions. It is therefore critical to be able to study distant interactions between local computations and the neural representations they act on. Here we report two anatomically and computationally distinct learning signals in lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) and the dopaminergic ventral midbrain (VM) that predict trial-by-trial changes to a basic internal model in hippocampus. To measure local computations during learning and their interaction with neural representations, we coupled computational fMRI with trial-by-trial fMRI suppression. We find that suppression in a medial temporal lobe network changes trial-by-trial in proportion to stimulus-outcome associations. During interleaved choice trials, we identify learning signals that relate to outcome type in lOFC and to reward value in VM. These intervening choice feedback signals predicted the subsequent change to hippocampal suppression, suggesting a convergence of signals that update the flexible representation of stimulus-outcome associations.
•Probe and choice trials assess the encoding and updating of an internal model•Learning signals are found in orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and ventral midbrain (VM)•Probe trials reveal the model’s neural instantiation in the medial temporal lobe•Dynamic changes to this instantiation are predicted by OFC and VM learning signals
Boorman et al. reveal neural encoding of an internal model comprising probabilistic transitions between visual stimuli and reward types in a medial temporal lobe network. Changes to its encoding are predicted by two distant computationally and anatomically distinct learning signals.