The study of synaptic specificity and plasticity in the Central Nervous System (CNS) is limited by the inability to efficiently visualize synapses in identified neurons using light microscopy. Here we describe Synaptic Tagging with Recombination (STaR), a method for labeling endogenous presynaptic and postsynaptic proteins in a cell-type specific fashion. We modified genomic loci encoding synaptic proteins within Bacterial Artificial Chromosomes such that these proteins, expressed at endogenous levels and with normal spatiotemporal patterns, were labeled in an inducible fashion in specific neurons through targeted expression of site-specific recombinases. Within the Drosophila visual system, the number and distribution of synapses correlate with Electron Microscopy studies. Using two different recombination systems, presynaptic and postsynaptic specializations of synaptic pairs can be co-labeled. STaR also allows synapses within the CNS to be studied in live animals non-invasively. In principle, STaR can be adapted to the mammalian nervous system.
The understanding of nature is a continuous process that requires the transference of current knowledge to future generations. In this article, we address the critical issue of training of future scientists, an essential aspect of scientific progress. As an example of the impact training programs can have on shaping future scientists, we focus on the experience of the Grass Laboratory, which provides early career investigators the opportunity to embark on independent research experiences. This uniquely designed program has contributed enormously to fostering the development of neuroscientists in the past 60 years and has left a recognizable mark on 20th and 21st century neuroscience research.
In this issue of Neuron, Chowdhury and DeAngelis report
that training monkeys to perform a fine depth discrimination abolishes the
contribution of signals from area MT to the execution of a different, coarse
depth discrimination. This result calls into question the principle of
associating particular visual areas with particular visual functions, by showing
that such associations are modifiable by experience.
A hexanucleotide GGGGCC repeat expansion in the noncoding region of the C9ORF72 gene is the most common genetic abnormality in familial and sporadic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The function of the C9ORF72 protein is unknown, as is the mechanism by which the repeat expansion could cause disease. Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-differentiated neurons from C9ORF72 ALS patients revealed disease-specific (1) intranuclear GGGGCCexp RNA foci, (2) dysregulated gene expression, (3) sequestration of GGGGCCexp RNA binding protein ADARB2, and (4) susceptibility to excitotoxicity. These pathological and pathogenic characteristics were confirmed in ALS brain and were mitigated with antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) therapeutics to the C9ORF72 transcript or repeat expansion despite the presence of repeat-associated non-ATG translation (RAN) products. These data indicate a toxic RNA gain-of-function mechanism as a cause of C9ORF72 ALS and provide candidate antisense therapeutics and candidate human pharmacodynamic markers for therapy.
How does auditory cortical respond to silence? Fukushima and colleagues
show that absent external input, activity in macaque auditory cortex is still
highly structured. This structure likely reflects adaptive tuning that mates
auditory analysis with effective action and perception.
Active force generation by outer hair cells (OHCs) underlies amplification and frequency tuning in the mammalian cochlea but whether such a process exists in non-mammals is unclear. Here we demonstrate that hair cells of the chicken auditory papilla possess an electromechanical force generator in addition to active hair bundle motion due to mechanotransducer channel gating. The properties of the force generator, its voltage-dependence and susceptibility to salicylate, as well as an associated chloride-sensitive non-linear capacitance, suggest involvement of the chicken homolog of prestin, the OHC motor protein. The presence of chicken prestin in the hair cell lateral membrane was confirmed by immunolabeling studies. The hair bundle and prestin motors together create sufficient force to produce fast lateral displacements of the tectorial membrane. Our results imply that the first use of prestin as a motor protein occurred early in amniote evolution and was not a mammalian invention as is usually supposed.
Developmental dyslexia is a reading disorder, yet deficits also manifest in the magnocellular-dominated dorsal visual system. Uncertainty about whether visual deficits are causal or consequential to reading disability encumbers accurate identification and appropriate treatment of this common learning disability. Using fMRI, we demonstrate in typical readers a relationship between reading ability and activity in area V5/MT during visual motion processing and, as expected, also found lower V5/MT activity for dyslexic children compared to age-matched controls. However, when dyslexics were matched to younger controls on reading ability, no differences emerged, suggesting that weakness in V5/MT may not be causal to dyslexia. To further test for causality, dyslexics underwent a phonological-based reading intervention. Surprisingly, V5/MT activity increased along with intervention-driven reading gains, demonstrating that activity here is mobilized through reading. Our results provide strong evidence that visual magnocellular dysfunction is not causal to dyslexia, but may instead be consequential to impoverished reading.
Developmental Dyslexia; Reading Disability; Visual Magnocelluar System; Causality; Reading-Level Design; fMRI; V5/MT; Motion Processing; Intervention
In the visual system, peripheral processing circuits are often tuned to specific stimulus features. How this selectivity arises and how these circuits are organized to inform specific visual behaviors is incompletely understood. Using forward genetics and quantitative behavioral studies, we uncover a new input channel to motion detecting circuitry in Drosophila. The second order neuron L3 acts combinatorially with two previously known inputs, L1 and L2, to inform circuits specialized to detect moving light and dark edges. In vivo calcium imaging of L3, combined with neuronal silencing experiments, suggests a neural mechanism to achieve selectivity for moving dark edges. We further demonstrate that different innate behaviors, turning and forward movement, can be independently modulated by visual motion. These two behaviors make use of different combinations of input channels. Such modular use of input channels to achieve feature extraction and behavioral specialization likely represents a general principle in sensory systems.
Vocal communicators such as humans and songbirds readily recognize individual vocalizations, even in distracting auditory environments. This perceptual ability is likely subserved by auditory neurons whose spiking responses to individual vocalizations are minimally affected by background sounds. However, auditory neurons that produce background-invariant responses to vocalizations in auditory scenes have not been found. Here, we describe a population of neurons in the zebra finch auditory cortex that represent vocalizations with a sparse code and that maintain their vocalization-like firing patterns in levels of background sound that permit behavioral recognition. These same neurons decrease or stop spiking in levels of background sound that preclude behavioral recognition. In contrast, upstream neurons represent vocalizations with dense and background-corrupted responses. We provide experimental evidence suggesting that sparse coding is mediated by feedforward suppression. Finally, we show through simulations that feedforward inhibition can transform a dense representation of vocalizations into a sparse and background-invariant representation.
Extrinsic cues activate intrinsic signaling mechanisms to pattern neuronal shape and connectivity. We showed previously that three cytoplasmic Ser/Thr kinases, LKB1, SAD-A and SAD-B, control early axon-dendrite polarization in forebrain neurons. Here we assess their role in other neuronal types. We found that all three kinases are dispensable for axon formation outside of the cortex, but that SAD kinases are required for formation of central axonal arbors by subsets of sensory neurons. The requirement for SAD kinases is most prominent in NT-3 dependent neurons. SAD kinases transduce NT-3 signals in two ways through distinct pathways. First, sustained NT-3/TrkC signaling increases SAD protein levels. Second, short duration NT-3/TrkC signals transiently activate SADs by inducing dephosphorylation of C-terminal domains, thereby allowing activating phosphorylation of the kinase domain. We propose that SAD kinases integrate long- and short duration signals from extrinsic cues to sculpt axon arbors within the CNS.
Temporal lobe epilepsy is the most common and often devastating form of human epilepsy. The molecular mechanism underlying the development of temporal lobe epilepsy remains largely unknown. Emerging evidence suggests that activation of the BDNF receptor, TrkB, promotes epileptogenesis caused by status epilepticus. We investigated a mouse model in which a brief episode of status epilepticus results in chronic recurrent seizures, anxiety-like behavior, and destruction of hippocampal neurons. We used a chemical-genetic approach to selectively inhibit activation of TrkB. We demonstrate that inhibition of TrkB commencing after status epilepticus and continued for two weeks prevents recurrent seizures, ameliorates anxiety-like behavior, and limits loss of hippocampal neurons when tested weeks to months later. That transient inhibition commencing after status epilepticus can prevent these long-lasting devastating consequences establishes TrkB signaling as an attractive target for developing preventive treatments of epilepsy in humans.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in working memory, self-regulatory and goal-directed behaviors and displays remarkable structural and functional plasticity over the life course. Neural circuitry, molecular profiles and neurochemistry can be changed by experiences, which influences behavior as well as neuroendocrine and autonomic function. Such effects have a particular impact during infancy and in adolescence. Behavioral stress affects both the structure and function of PFC, though such effects are not necessarily permanent, as young animals show remarkable neuronal resilience if the stress is discontinued. During aging, neurons within the PFC become less resilient to stress. There are also sex differences in the PFC response to stressors. While such stress- and sex-hormone related alterations occur in regions mediating the highest levels of cognitive function and self regulatory control, the fact that they are not necessarily permanent has implications for future behavior-based therapies that harness neural plasticity for recovery.
Recognizing when the world changes is fundamental for normal learning. Here, Bradfield and colleagues show that cholinergic interneurons in dorsomedial striatum are critical to the process whereby new states of the world are appropriately registered and retrieved during associative learning.
The capacity for goal-directed action depends on encoding specific action-outcome associations, a learning process mediated by the posterior dorsomedial striatum (pDMS). In a changing environment plasticity has to remain flexible requiring interference between new and existing learning to be minimized, yet it is not known how new and existing learning are interlaced in this way. Here we investigated the role of the thalamo-striatal pathway linking the parafascicular thalamus (Pf) with cholinergic interneurons (CINs) in the pDMS in this process. Removing the excitatory input from Pf to the CINs was found to reduce the firing rate and intrinsic activity of these neurons and produced an enduring deficit in goal-directed learning after changes in the action-outcome contingency. Disconnection of the Pf – pDMS pathway produced similar behavioral effects. These data suggest that CINs reduce interference between new and existing learning, consistent with claims that the thalamo-striatal pathway exerts state control over learning-related plasticity.
Social cues contribute to the circadian entrainment of physiological and behavioral rhythms. These cues supplement the influence of daily and seasonal cycles in light and temperature. In Drosophila, the social environment modulates circadian mechanisms that regulate sex pheromone production and mating behavior. Here we demonstrate that a neuroendocrine pathway, defined by the neuropeptide Pigment-Dispersing Factor (PDF), couples the central nervous system (CNS) to the physiological output of peripheral clock cells that produce pheromones, the oenocytes. PDF signaling from the CNS modulates the phase of the oenocyte clock. Despite its requirement for sustaining free-running locomoter activity rhythms, PDF is not necessary to sustain molecular rhythms in the oenocytes. Interestingly, disruption of the PDF signaling pathway reduces male sex pheromones and results in sex-specific differences in mating behavior. Our findings highlight the role of neuropeptide signaling and the circadian system in synchronizing the physiological and behavioral processes which govern social interactions.
In this issue of Neuron, Suh et al. (2013) describe two rare ADAM10 prodomain mutations that
cause late-onset Alzheimer’s disease by impairing prodomain chaperone
function, attenuating α-secretase activity, and reducing adult
hippocampal neurogenesis. These results support both ADAM10 as a therapeutic
target and the amyloid hypothesis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Research into the anatomical substrates and “principles” for integrating inputs from separate sensory surfaces has yielded divergent findings. This suggests that multisensory integration is flexible and context-dependent, and underlines the need for dynamically adaptive neuronal integration mechanisms. We propose that flexible multisensory integration can be explained by a combination of canonical, population-level integrative operations, such as oscillatory phase-resetting and divisive normalization. These canonical operations subsume multisensory integration into a fundamental set of principles as to how the brain integrates all sorts of information, and they are being used proactively and adaptively. We illustrate this proposition by unifying recent findings from different research themes such as timing, behavioral goal and experience-related differences in integration.
multisensory integration; oscillations; context; divisive normalization; phase-resetting; canonical operations
Itch is immensely frustrating. Most studies focus on the cause of itch.
In this issue of Neuron, Kardon
et al. (2014) find that itch can be modulated by inhibitory neurons
that produce dynorphin, an endogenous agonist of κ-opioid receptors.
Female eutherian mammals use X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) to epigenetically regulate gene expression from ~4% of genes. To quantitatively map the topography of XCI for defined cell types at single cell resolution, we have generated female mice that carry X-linked, Cre-activated, and nuclear-localized fluorescent reporters – GFP on one X-chromosome and tdTomato on the other. Using these reporters in combination with different Cre drivers we have defined the topographies of XCI mosaicism for multiple CNS cell types and of retinal vascular dysfunction in a model of Norrie Disease. Depending on cell type, fluctuations in the XCI mosaic are observed over a wide range of spatial scales, from neighboring cells to left vs. right sides of the body. These data imply a major role for XCI in generating female-specific, genetically directed, stochastic diversity in eutherian mammals on spatial scales that would be predicted to affect CNS function within and between individuals.
Perceptual decisions involve distributed cortical activity. Does information flow sequentially from one cortical area to another, or do networks of interconnected areas contribute at the same time? Here we delineate when and how activity in specific areas drives a whisker-based decision in mice. A short-term memory component temporally separated tactile “sensation” and “action” (licking). Using optogenetic inhibition (spatial resolution, 2 mm; temporal resolution, 100 ms) we surveyed the neocortex for regions driving behavior during specific behavioral epochs. Barrel cortex was critical for sensation. During the short-term memory, unilateral inhibition of anterior lateral motor cortex biased responses to the ipsilateral side. Consistently, barrel cortex showed stimulus-specific activity during sensation, whereas motor cortex showed choice-specific preparatory activity and movement-related activity, consistent with roles in motor planning and movement. These results suggest serial information flow from sensory to motor areas during perceptual decision making.
optogenetics; somatosensory cortex; frontal cortex; persistent activity; short-term memory
Salient stimuli redirect attention and suppress ongoing motor activity. This attentional shift is thought to rely upon thalamic signals to the striatum to shift cortically driven action selection, but the network mechanisms underlying this interaction are unclear. Using a brain slice preparation that preserved cortico- and thalamostriatal connectivity, it was found that activation of thalamostriatal axons in a way that mimicked the response to salient stimuli induced a burst of spikes in striatal cholinergic interneurons that was followed by a pause lasting more than half a second. This patterned interneuron activity triggered a transient, presynaptic suppression of cortical input to both major classes of principal medium spiny neuron (MSN), that gave way to a prolonged enhancement of postsynaptic responsiveness in striatopallidal MSNs controlling motor suppression. This differential regulation of the corticostriatal circuitry provides a neural substrate for attentional shifts and cessation of ongoing motor activity with the appearance of salient environmental stimuli.
Psychological studies in humans and behavioral studies of model organisms suggest that forgetting is a common and biologically regulated process, but the molecular, cellular, and circuit mechanisms underlying forgetting are poorly understood. Here we show that the bidirectional modulation of a small subset of dopamine neurons (DANs) after olfactory learning regulates the rate of forgetting of both punishing (aversive) and rewarding (appetitive) memories. Two of these DANs, MP1 and MV1, exhibit synchronized ongoing activity in the mushroom body neuropil in alive and awake flies before and after learning, as revealed by functional cellular imaging. Furthermore, while the mushroom-body-expressed dDA1 dopamine receptor is essential for the acquisition of memory, we show that the dopamine receptor DAMB, also highly expressed in mushroom body neurons, is required for forgetting. We propose a dual role for dopamine: memory acquisition through dDA1 signaling and forgetting through DAMB signaling in the mushroom body neurons.
Changing gain in a neuronal system has important functional consequences, but the underlying mechanisms have been elusive. Models have suggested a variety of neuronal and systems properties to accomplish gain control. Here, we show that the gain of the neuronal network underlying local bending behavior in leeches depends on widespread inhibition. Using behavioral analysis, intracellular recordings, and voltage-sensitive dye imaging, we compared the effects of blocking just the known lateral inhibition with blocking all GABAergic inhibition. This revealed an additional source of inhibition, which was widespread and increased in proportion to increasing stimulus intensity. In a model of the input/output functions of the three-layered local bending network, we showed that inhibiting all interneurons in proportion to the stimulus strength produces the experimentally observed change in gain. This relatively simple mechanism for controlling behavioral gain could be prevalent in vertebrate as well as invertebrate nervous systems.
imaging; invertebrates; Voltage-sensitive dyes; behavior; motor circuit; sensory-motor
Functional imaging with genetically-encoded calcium and cAMP reporters was used to examine the signal integration underlying learning in Drosophila. Dopamine and octopamine modulated intracellular cAMP in spatially-distinct patterns in mushroom body neurons. Pairing of neuronal depolarization with subsequent dopamine application revealed a synergistic increase in cAMP in the mushroom body lobes, which was dependent on the rutabaga adenylyl cyclase. This synergy was restricted to the axons of mushroom body neurons, and occurred only following forward pairing with time intervals similar to those required for behavioral conditioning. In contrast, forward pairing of neuronal depolarization and octopamine produced a sub-additive effect on cAMP. Finally, elevating intracellular cAMP facilitated calcium transients in mushroom body neurons, suggesting that cAMP elevation is sufficient to induce presynaptic plasticity. These data suggest that rutabaga functions as a coincidence detector in an intact neuronal circuit, with dopamine and octopamine bidirectionally influencing the generation of cAMP.
In the long-range neuronal migration of adult mammals, young neurons travel from the subventricular zone to the olfactory bulb, a long journey (millimeters to centimeters, depending on the species). How can these neurons migrate through the dense meshwork of neuronal and glial processes of the adult brain parenchyma? Previous studies indicate that young neurons achieve this by migrating in chains through astrocytic tunnels. Here, we report that young migrating neurons actively control the formation and maintenance of their own migration route. New neurons secrete the diffusible protein Slit1, whose receptor, Robo, is expressed on astrocytes. We show that the Slit-Robo pathway is required for morphologic and organizational changes in astrocytes that result in the formation and maintenance of the astrocytic tunnels. Through this neuron-glia interaction, the new neurons regulate the formation of the astrocytic meshwork that is needed to enable their rapid and directional migration in adult brain.