The study of perceptual decision-making offers insight into how the brain uses complex, sometimes ambiguous information to guide actions. Understanding the underlying processes and their neural bases requires that one pair recordings and manipulations of neural activity with rigorous psychophysics. Though this research has been traditionally performed in primates, it seems increasingly promising to pursue it at least partly in mice and rats. However, rigorous psychophysical methods are not yet as developed for these rodents as they are for primates. Here we give a brief overview of the sensory capabilities of rodents and of their cortical areas devoted to sensation and decision. We then review methods of psychophysics, focusing on the technical issues that arise in their implementation in rodents. These methods represent a rich set of challenges and opportunities.
Using immunohistology, electron microscopy, electrophysiology and optogenetics, we show that proliferating adult hippocampal neural precursors receive immature GABAergic synaptic inputs from parvalbumin-expressing interneurons. Recently shown to suppress quiescent neural stem cell activation, parvalbumin interneuron activation promotes newborn neuronal progeny survival and development. Our study suggests a niche mechanism involving parvalbumin interneurons that couples local circuit activity to diametric regulation of two critical initial phases of adult hippocampal neurogenesis.
A study recording directly from the human brain shows that connectivity
between the prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex and the medial temporal lobe
across different frequency bands underlies successful memory retrieval.
Two new studies experimentally demonstrate how ancient genomic
duplications of synaptic genes provided the substrate for diversification that
ultimately expanded vertebrate cognitive complexity.
Anatomical studies have led to the assertion that intratelencephalic (IT) and pyramidal tract (PT) cortical neurons innervate different striatal projection neurons. To test this hypothesis, the responses of mouse striatal neurons to optogenetic activation of IT and PT axons were measured. Contrary to expectation, direct and indirect pathway striatal spiny projection neurons (SPNs) responded to both IT and PT activation, arguing that these cortical networks innervate both striatal projection neurons.
Although systems involved in attentional selection have been studied extensively, much less is known about non-selective systems. To study these preparatory mechanisms, we compared activity in auditory cortex elicited by sounds while rats performed an auditory task (“engaged”) with activity elicited by identical stimuli while subjects were awake but not performing a task (“passive”). Surprisingly, we found that engagement suppressed responses, an effect opposite in sign to that elicited by selective attention. In the auditory thalamus, however, engagement enhanced spontaneous firing rates but did not affect evoked responses. These results demonstrate that in auditory cortex, neural activity cannot be viewed simply as a limited resource allocated in greater measure as the state of the animal passes from somnolent to passively listening to engaged and attentive. Instead the engaged condition possesses a characteristic and distinct neural signature in which sound-evoked responses are paradoxically suppressed.
Theories on the functions of the hippocampal system are based largely on two fundamental discoveries: the amnestic consequences of removing the hippocampus and associated structures in the famous patient H.M. and the observation that spiking activity of hippocampal neurons is associated with the spatial position of the rat. In the footsteps of these discoveries, many attempts were made to reconcile these seemingly disparate functions. Here we propose that mechanisms of memory and planning have evolved from mechanisms of navigation in the physical world and hypothesize that the neuronal algorithms underlying navigation in real and mental space are fundamentally the same. We review experimental data in support of this hypothesis and discuss how specific firing patterns and oscillatory dynamics in the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus can support both navigation and memory.
Using olfactory molecular specificity, we examined the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure, a phenomenon that has been frequently observed, but not understood. We subjected F0 mice to odor fear conditioning before conception and found that subsequently conceived F1 and F2 generations had an increased behavioral sensitivity to the F0-conditioned odor, but not to other odors. When an odor (acetophenone) that activates a known odorant receptor (Olfr151) was used to condition F0 mice, the behavioral sensitivity of the F1 and F2 generations to acetophenone was complemented by an enhanced neuroanatomical representation of the Olfr151 pathway. Bisulfite sequencing of sperm DNA from conditioned F0 males and F1 naive offspring revealed CpG hypomethylation in the Olfr151 gene. In addition, in vitro fertilization, F2 inheritance and cross-fostering revealed that these transgenerational effects are inherited via parental gametes. Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.
Retrograde communication from axonal targets to neuronal cell bodies is critical for both development and function of the nervous system. Much progress has been made in recent years linking long-distance, retrograde signaling to a signaling endosome, yet the mechanisms governing the trafficking and signaling of these endosomes remain mainly uncharacterized. Here we report that in mouse sympathetic neurons the target-derived NGF-TrkA signaling endosome, upon arrival at the cell body, induces the expression and recruitment of a novel effector protein known as Coronin-1. In the absence of Coronin-1, the NGF-TrkA signaling endosome fuses to lysosomes 6–10 fold faster than when Coronin-1 is intact. We also define a novel Coronin-1-dependent trafficking event where signaling endosomes recycle and re-internalize upon arrival at the cell body. Beyond influencing endosomal trafficking, Coronin-1 is also required for several NGF-TrkA dependent-signaling events including calcium release, calcineurin activation, and CREB phosphorylation. These results establish Coronin-1 as an essential component of a novel feedback loop mediating NGF-TrkA endosome stability, recycling, and signaling as a critical mechanism governing developmental competition for survival.
Cue-induced cocaine craving is a major cause of relapse in abstinent addicts. In rats, cue-induced craving progressively intensifies (incubates) during withdrawal from extended-access cocaine self-administration. After ~1 month of withdrawal, incubated craving is mediated by Ca2+-permeable AMPARs (CP-AMPARs) that accumulate in the nucleus accumbens (NAc). We found that decreased mGluR1 surface expression in the NAc precedes and enables CP-AMPAR accumulation. Thus, restoring mGluR1 tone by administering repeated injections of an mGluR1 positive allosteric modulator (PAM) prevented CP-AMPAR accumulation and incubation, whereas blocking mGluR1 transmission at even earlier withdrawal times accelerated CP-AMPAR accumulation. In studies conducted after prolonged withdrawal, when CP-AMPAR levels and cue-induced craving are high, we found that systemic administration of an mGluR1 PAM attenuated the expression of incubated craving by reducing CP-AMPAR transmission in the NAc to control levels. These results demonstrate a strategy whereby recovering addicts could use a systemically active compound to protect against cue-induced relapse.
Intraspecific male-male aggression, important for sexual selection, is regulated by environment, experience and internal states through largely undefined molecular and cellular mechanisms. To understand the basic neural pathway underlying the modulation of this innate behavior, we established a behavioral paradigm in Drosophila melanogaster and investigated the relationship between sexual experience and aggression. In the presence of mating partners, adult male flies exhibited elevated levels of aggression, which was largely suppressed by prior exposure to females via a sexually dimorphic neural mechanism. The suppression involved the ability of male flies to detect females by contact chemosensation through the pheromone-sensing ion channel, ppk29, and was mediated by male specific GABAergic neurons acting upon GABA-a receptor RDL in target cells. Silencing or activation of this circuit led to dis-inhibition or elimination of sex-related aggression, respectively. We propose that the GABAergic inhibition represents a critical cellular mechanism that enables prior experience to modulate aggression.
Humans have approximately 400 intact odorant receptors, but each
individual has a unique set of genetic variations that lead to variation in
olfactory perception. We used a heterologous assay to determine how often
genetic polymorphisms in odorant receptors alter receptor function. We
identified agonists for 18 odorant receptors and found that 63% of the
odorant receptors we examined had polymorphisms that altered in
vitro function. On average, two individuals differ functionally at
over 30% of their odorant receptor alleles. To show that these
in vitro results are relevant to olfactory perception, we
verified that variations in OR10G4 genotype explain over
15% of the observed variation in perceived intensity and over
10% of the observed variation in perceived valence for the high affinity
in vitro agonist guaiacol, but do not explain phenotypic
variation for the lower affinity agonists vanillin and ethyl vanillin.
Successfully differentiating safety from danger is an essential skill for survival. While decreased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is associated with fear generalization in animals and humans, the circuit level mechanisms used by the mPFC to discern safety are not clear. To answer this question, we recorded activity in the mPFC, basolateral amygdala (BLA), and dorsal (dHPC) and ventral hippocampus (vHPC) in mice during exposure to learned (differential fear conditioning) and innate (open field) anxiety. We found increased synchrony between the mPFC and BLA in the theta frequency range (4–12 Hz) only in animals that differentiate between averseness and safety. Moreover, during recognized safety across learned and innate paradigms, BLA firing becomes entrained to theta input from the mPFC. These data suggest that selective tuning of BLA firing to mPFC input provides a safety-signaling mechanism whereby the mPFC taps into the microcircuitry of the amygdala to diminish fear.
Microglia are myeloid cells of the central nervous system (CNS) that participate both in normal CNS function and disease. We investigated the molecular signature of microglia and identified 239 genes and 8 microRNAs that were uniquely or highly expressed in microglia vs. myeloid and other immune cells. Out of 239 genes, 106 were enriched in microglia as compared to astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and neurons. This microglia signature was not observed in microglial lines or in monocytes recruited to the CNS and was also observed in human microglia. Based on this signature, we found a crucial role for TGF-β in microglial biology that included: 1) the requirement of TGF-β for the in vitro development of microglia that express the microglial molecular signature characteristic of adult microglia; and 2) the absence of microglia in CNS TGF-β1 deficient mice. Our results identify a unique microglial signature that is dependent on TGF-β signaling which provides insights into microglial biology and the possibility of targeting microglia for the treatment of CNS disease.
Circadian clocks control a variety of neuronal, behavioral and physiological responses, via transcriptional regulation of a significant portion of the genome. We describe the complex communication network between the brain-specific central clock and the tissue-specific peripheral clocks that serve to synchronize the organism to both external and internal demands. In addition, we discuss and speculate how epigenetic processes are involved in creating transcriptional environments that are permissive to tissue-specific gene expression programs, which work in concert with the circadian machinery. Accumulating data shows that chromatin remodeling events may be critical for providing specificity and plasticity in circadian regulation, and metabolic cues may be involved in directing such epigenetic events. A detailed understanding of the communication cues between the central and peripheral clocks is crucial for a more complete understanding of the circadian system and the multiple levels of control that are implicated in maintaining biological timekeeping.
Microglia, the immune cells of the brain, can have a beneficial effect in Alzheimer’s disease by phagocytosing amyloid-β. Two-photon in vivo imaging of neuron loss in the intact brain of living Alzheimer’s disease mice revealed an involvement of microglia in neuron elimination, indicated by locally increased number and migration velocity of microglia around lost neurons. Knockout of the microglial chemokine receptor Cx3cr1, which is critical in neuron-microglia communication, prevented neuron loss.
The prevalence of obesity has drastically increased over the last few decades. Exploration into how hunger and satiety signals influence the reward system can help us to understand non-homeostatic mechanisms of feeding. Evidence suggests that insulin may act in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a critical site for reward-seeking behavior, to suppress feeding. However, the neural mechanisms underlying insulin effects in the VTA remain unknown. We demonstrate that insulin, a circulating catabolic peptide that inhibits feeding, can induce a long-term depression (LTD) of excitatory synapses onto VTA dopamine neurons. This effect requires endocannabinoid-mediated presynaptic inhibition of glutamate release. Furthermore, after a sweetened high fat meal, which elevates endogenous insulin levels, insulin-induced LTD is occluded. Finally, insulin in the VTA reduces food anticipatory behavior and conditioned place preference for food. Taken together, these results suggest that insulin in the VTA suppresses excitatory synaptic transmission and reduces salience of food-related cues.
PMID: 23354329 CAMSID: cams3903
Insulin; Ventral Tegmental Area; Dopamine; LTD; AMPA receptors; obesity; CB1 receptor; endocannabinoid; conditioned place preference; incentive salience
The hypothalamus is a central regulator of many behaviors that are essential for survival, such as temperature regulation, food intake and circadian rhythms. However, the molecular pathways that mediate hypothalamic development are largely unknown. To identify genes expressed in developing mouse hypothalamus, we performed microarray analysis at 12 different developmental time points. We then conducted developmental in situ hybridization for 1,045 genes that were dynamically expressed over the course of hypothalamic neurogenesis. We identified markers that stably labeled each major hypothalamic nucleus over the entire course of neurogenesis and constructed a detailed molecular atlas of the developing hypothalamus. As a proof of concept of the utility of these data, we used these markers to analyze the phenotype of mice in which Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) was selectively deleted from hypothalamic neuroepithelium and found that Shh is essential for anterior hypothalamic patterning. Our results serve as a resource for functional investigations of hypothalamic development, connectivity, physiology and dysfunction.
Immature neurons in many brain regions are electrically coupled through
gap junctions, which are lost as chemical synaptic transmission matures. This
developmental uncoupling is now shown to require NMDA receptor activation.
In the mushroom body of insects, odors are represented by very few spikes in a small number of neurons, a highly efficient strategy known as sparse coding. Physiological studies of these neurons have shown that sparseness is maintained across thousand-fold changes in odor concentration. Using a realistic computational model, we propose that sparseness in the olfactory system is regulated by adaptive feedforward inhibition. When odor concentration changes, feedforward inhibition modulates the duration of the temporal window over which the mushroom body neurons may integrate excitatory presynaptic input. This simple adaptive mechanism could maintain the sparseness of sensory representations across wide ranges of stimulus conditions.
Neurons in the auditory cortex can lock with millisecond precision to the fine timing of acoustic stimuli, but it is not known whether this precise spike timing can be used to guide decisions. We used chronically implanted microelectrode pairs to stimulate neurons in the rat auditory cortex directly. Here we demonstrate that rats can exploit differences in the timing of cortical activity as short as three milliseconds to guide decisions.
The mechanisms that regulate the developmental potential of adult neural progenitor populations under physiological and pathological conditions remain poorly defined. Glutamic acid decarboxylase 65 (GAD65)- and Doublecortin (Dcx)-expressing cells constitute major progenitor populations in the adult mouse subventricular zone (SVZ). Under normal physiological conditions, SVZ-derived GAD65-positive and Dcx-positive cells expressed the transcription factor Pax6 and migrated along the rostral migratory stream to the olfactory bulb to generate interneurons. After lysolecithin-induced demyelination of corpus callosum, however, these cells altered their molecular and cellular properties and migratory path. Demyelination upregulated chordin in the SVZ, which redirected GAD65-positive and Dcx-positive progenitors from neuronal to glial fates, generating new oligodendrocytes in the corpus callosum. Our findings suggest that the lineage plasticity of SVZ progenitor cells could be a potential therapeutic strategy for diseased or injured brain.
To advance our understanding of how the brain makes food decisions, it is essential to combine knowledge from two fields that have not yet been well integrated: the neuro-computational basis of decision-making and the homeostatic regulators of feeding. This Review integrates these two literatures from a neuro-computational perspective, with an emphasis in describing the variables computed by different neural systems and how they affect dietary choice. We highlight what is unique about feeding decisions, the mechanisms through which metabolic and endocrine factors affect the decision-making circuitry, why making healthy food choices is difficult for many people, and key processes at work in the obesity epidemic.
A major controversy in memory research concerns whether recognition is subdivided into distinct cognitive mechanisms of recollection and familiarity that are supported by different neural substrates. Here we developed a new associative recognition protocol for rats that enabled us to show that recollection is reduced, whereas familiarity is increased following hippocampal damage. These results provide strong evidence that these processes are qualitatively different and that the hippocampus supports recollection and not familiarity.
Recent models of hippocampal function emphasize the potential role of this brain structure in encoding and retrieving sequences of events that compose episodic memories. Here we show that hippocampal lesions produce a severe and selective impairment in the capacity of rats to remember the sequential ordering of a series of odors, despite an intact capacity to recognize odors that recently occurred. These findings support the hypothesis that hippocampal networks mediate associations between sequential events that constitute elements of an episodic memory.