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The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is involved in a wide range of executive cognitive functions, including reward evaluation, decision-making, memory extinction, mood, and task switching. Manipulation of the mPFC has been shown to alter food intake and food reward valuation, but whether exclusive stimulation of mPFC pyramidal neurons (PN), which form the principle output of the mPFC, is sufficient to mediate food rewarded instrumental behavior is unknown. We sought to determine the behavioral consequences of manipulating mPFC output by exciting PN in mouse mPFC during performance of a panel of behavioral assays, focusing on food reward. We found that increasing mPFC pyramidal cell output using designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD) enhanced performance in instrumental food reward assays that assess food seeking behavior, while sparing effects on affect and food intake. Specifically, activation of mPFC PN enhanced operant responding for food reward, reinstatement of palatable food seeking, and suppression of impulsive responding for food reward. Conversely, activation of mPFC PN had no effect on unconditioned food intake, social interaction, or behavior in an open field. Furthermore, we found that behavioral outcome is influenced by the degree of mPFC activation, with a low drive sufficient to enhance operant responding and a higher drive required to alter impulsivity. Additionally, we provide data demonstrating that DREADD stimulation involves a nitric oxide (NO) synthase dependent pathway, similar to endogenous muscarinic M3 receptor stimulation, a finding that provides novel mechanistic insight into an increasingly widespread method of remote neuronal control.
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The hippocampus plays a key role in learning and memory. Previous studies suggested that the main types of principal neurons, dentate gyrus granule cells (GCs), CA3 pyramidal neurons, and CA1 pyramidal neurons, differ in their activity pattern, with sparse firing in GCs and more frequent firing in CA3 and CA1 pyramidal neurons. It has been assumed but never shown that such different activity may be caused by differential synaptic excitation. To test this hypothesis, we performed high-resolution whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in anesthetized rats in vivo. In contrast to previous in vitro data, both CA3 and CA1 pyramidal neurons fired action potentials spontaneously, with a frequency of ∼3-6 Hz, whereas GCs were silent. Furthermore, both CA3 and CA1 cells primarily fired in bursts. To determine the underlying mechanisms, we quantitatively assessed the frequency of spontaneous excitatory synaptic input, the passive membrane properties, and the active membrane characteristics. Surprisingly, GCs showed comparable synaptic excitation to CA3 and CA1 cells and the highest ratio of excitation versus hyperpolarizing inhibition. Thus, differential synaptic excitation is not responsible for differences in firing. Moreover, the three types of hippocampal neurons markedly differed in their passive properties. While GCs showed the most negative membrane potential, CA3 pyramidal neurons had the highest input resistance and the slowest membrane time constant. The three types of neurons also differed in the active membrane characteristics. GCs showed the highest action potential threshold, but displayed the largest gain of the input-output curves. In conclusion, our results reveal that differential firing of the three main types of hippocampal principal neurons in vivo is not primarily caused by differences in the characteristics of the synaptic input, but by the distinct properties of synaptic integration and input-output transformation. © 2015 The Authors Hippocampus Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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A principal challenge of systems neuroscience is to understand the unique characteristics of cortical neurons and circuits that enable area- and species-specific sensory encoding, motor function, cognition, and behavior. To address this issue, we compared properties of layer 3 pyramidal neurons in 2 cortical areas that span a broad range of cortical function-primary sensory (V1), to cognitive (frontal)-in the mouse and the rhesus monkey. Hierarchical clustering and discriminant analyses of 15 physiological and 25 morphological variables revealed 2 fundamental principles. First, V1 and frontal neurons are remarkably similar with regard to nearly every property in the mouse, while the opposite is true in the monkey, with V1 and frontal neurons exhibiting significant differences in nearly every property assessed. Second, neurons within visual and frontal areas differ significantly between the mouse and the monkey. Neurons in mouse and monkey V1 are the same size, but differ in nearly every other way; mouse frontal cortical neurons are smaller than those in the monkey and also differ substantially with regard to most other properties. These findings have broad implications for understanding the differential contributions of heterogeneous neuronal types in construction of cortical microcircuitry in diverse brain areas and species.
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Tonic GABA currents mediated by high-affinity extrasynaptic GABAA receptors, are increasingly recognized as important regulators of cell and neuronal network excitability. Dysfunctional GABAA receptor signaling that results in modified tonic GABA currents is associated with a number of neurological disorders. Consequently, developing compounds to selectively modulate the activity of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors underlying tonic inhibition is likely to prove therapeutically useful. Here, we examine the GABAA receptor subtype selectivity of the weak partial agonist, 5-(4-piperidyl)isoxazol-3-ol (4-PIOL), as a potential mechanism for modulating extrasynaptic GABAA receptor-mediated tonic currents. By using recombinant GABAA receptors expressed in HEK293 cells, and native GABAA receptors of cerebellar granule cells, hippocampal neurons, and thalamic relay neurons, 4-PIOL evidently displayed differential agonist and antagonist-type profiles, depending on the extrasynaptic GABAA receptor isoforms targeted. For neurons, this resulted in differential modulation of GABA tonic currents, depending on the cell type studied, their respective GABAA receptor subunit compositions, and critically, on the ambient GABA levels. Unexpectedly, 4-PIOL revealed a significant population of relatively low-affinity γ2 subunit-containing GABAA receptors in the thalamus, which can contribute to tonic inhibition under specific conditions when GABA levels are raised. Together, these data indicate that partial agonists, such as 4-PIOL, may be useful for modulating GABAA receptor-mediated tonic currents, but the direction and extent of this modulation is strongly dependent on relative expression levels of different extrasynaptic GABAA receptor subtypes, and on the ambient GABA levels. A background level of inhibition (tonic) is important in the brain for controlling neuronal excitability. Increased levels of tonic inhibition are associated with some neurological disorders but there are no specific ligands capable of selectively reducing tonic inhibition. Here we explore the use of a GABA partial agonist as a selective chemical tool in three different brain regions. We discover that the activity of a partial agonist is heavily dependent upon the GABAA receptor subunit composition underpinning tonic inhibition, and on the ambient levels of GABA in the brain.
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In this study, we determine the optimal feature-combination for classification of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) signals with the best accuracies for development of a two-class brain-computer interface (BCI). Using a multi-channel continuous-wave imaging system, mental arithmetic signals are acquired from the prefrontal cortex of seven healthy subjects. After removing physiological noises, six oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin (HbO and HbR) features-mean, slope, variance, peak, skewness and kurtosis-are calculated. All possible 2- and 3-feature combinations of the calculated features are then used to classify mental arithmetic vs. rest using linear discriminant analysis (LDA). It is found that the combinations containing mean and peak values yielded significantly higher (p < 0.05) classification accuracies for both HbO and HbR than did all of the other combinations, across all of the subjects. These results demonstrate the feasibility of achieving high classification accuracies using mean and peak values of HbO and HbR as features for classification of mental arithmetic vs. rest for a two-class BCI.
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Neurons communicate and transmit information predominantly through spikes. Given that experimentally observed neural spike trains in a variety of brain areas can be highly correlated, it is important to investigate how neurons process correlated inputs. Most previous work in this area studied the problem of correlation transfer analytically by making significant simplifications on neural dynamics. Temporal correlation between inputs that arises from synaptic filtering, for instance, is often ignored when assuming that an input spike can at most generate one output spike. Through numerical simulations of a pair of leaky integrate-and-fire (LIF) neurons receiving correlated inputs, we demonstrate that neurons in the presence of synaptic filtering by slow synapses exhibit strong output correlations. We then show that burst firing plays a central role in enhancing output correlations, which can explain the above-mentioned observation because synaptic filtering induces bursting. The observed changes of correlations are mostly on a long time scale. Our results suggest that other features affecting the prevalence of neural burst firing in biological neurons, e.g., adaptive spiking mechanisms, may play an important role in modulating the overall level of correlations in neural networks.
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Gamma-aminobutyric acidergic (GABAergic) interneurons (INs) in the dentate gyrus (DG) provide inhibitory control to granule cell (GC) activity and thus gate incoming signals to the hippocampus. However, how various IN subtypes inhibit GCs in response to different excitatory input pathways remains mostly unknown. By using electrophysiology and optogenetics, we investigated neurotransmission of the hilar commissural pathway (COM) and the medial perforant path (MPP) to the DG in acutely prepared mouse slices. We found that the short-term dynamics of excitatory COM-GC and MPP-GC synapses was similar, but that the dynamics of COM- and MPP-mediated inhibition measured in GCs was remarkably different, during theta-frequency stimulation. This resulted in the increased inhibition-excitation (I/E) ratios in single GCs for COM stimulation, but decreased I/E ratios for MPP stimulation. Further analysis of pathway-specific responses in identified INs revealed that basket cell-like INs, total molecular layer- and molecular layer-like cells, received greater excitation and were more reliably recruited by the COM than by the MPP inputs. In contrast, hilar perforant path-associated and hilar commissural-associational pathway-related-like cells were minimally activated by both inputs. These results demonstrate that distinct IN subtypes are preferentially recruited by different inputs to the DG, and reveal their relative contributions in COM-mediated feedforward inhibition.
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Compelling evidence demonstrates that the external globus pallidus (GPe) plays a key role in processing sensorimotor information. An anatomical projection from the GPe to the dorsal striatum has been described for decades. However, the cellular target and functional impact of this projection remain unknown. Using cell-specific transgenic mice, modern monosynaptic tracing techniques, and optogenetics-based mapping, we discovered that GPe neurons provide inhibitory inputs to direct and indirect pathway striatal projection neurons (SPNs). Our results indicate that the GPe input to SPNs arises primarily from Npas1-expressing neurons and is strengthened in a chronic Parkinson's disease (PD) model. Alterations of the GPe-SPN input in a PD model argue for the critical position of this connection in regulating basal ganglia motor output and PD symptomatology. Finally, chemogenetic activation of Npas1-expressing GPe neurons suppresses motor output, arguing that strengthening of the GPe-SPN connection is maladaptive and may underlie the hypokinetic symptoms in PD. An anatomical projection from the pallidum to the striatum has been described for decades, but little is known about its connectivity pattern. The authors dissect the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons involved in this projection, and show its cell-specific remodeling and strengthening in parkinsonian mice. Chemogenetic activation of Npas1(+) pallidal neurons that give rise to the principal pallidostriatal projection increases the time that the mice spend motionless. This argues that maladaptive strengthening of this connection underlies the paucity of volitional movements, which is a hallmark of Parkinson's disease.
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The mechanisms that enable the hippocampal network to express the appropriate spatial representation for a particular circumstance are not well understood. Previous studies suggest that the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC) may have a role in reproducibly selecting the hippocampal representation of an environment. To examine how ongoing MEC activity is continually integrated by the hippocampus, we performed transient unilateral optogenetic inactivations of the MEC while simultaneously recording place cell activity in CA1. Inactivation of the MEC caused a partial remapping in the CA1 population without diminishing the degree of spatial tuning across the active cell assembly. These changes remained stable irrespective of intermittent disruption of MEC input, indicating that while MEC input is integrated over long time scales to bias the active population, there are mechanisms for stabilizing the population of active neurons independent of the MEC. We find that MEC inputs to the hippocampus shape its ongoing activity by biasing the participation of the neurons in the active network, thereby influencing how the hippocampus selectively represents information.
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The central medial thalamic (CMT) nucleus is a poorly known component of the middle thalamic complex that relays nociceptive inputs to the basolateral amygdala and cingulate cortex and plays a critical role in the control of awareness. The present study was undertaken to characterize the electroresponsive properties of CMT neurons. Similar to relay neurons found throughout the dorsal thalamus, CMT cells assumed tonic or burst-firing modes, depending on their membrane potentials (Vm). However, they showed little evidence of the hyperpolarization-activated mixed cationic conductance (IH)-mediated inward rectification usually displayed by dorsal thalamic relay cells at hyperpolarized Vm Two subtypes of CMT neurons were identified when comparing their responses with depolarization applied from negative potentials. Some cells generated a low-threshold spike burst followed by tonic firing, whereas others remained silent after the initial burst, irrespective of the amount of depolarizing current injected. Equal proportions of the two cell types were found among neurons retrogradely labeled from the basolateral amygdala. Their morphological properties were heterogeneous but distinct from the classical bushy relay cell type that prevails in most of the dorsal thalamus. We propose that the marginal influence of IHin CMT relative to other dorsal thalamic nuclei has significant network-level consequences. Because IHpromotes the genesis of highly coherent delta oscillations in thalamocortical networks during sleep, these oscillations may be weaker or less coherent in CMT. Consequently, delta oscillations would be more easily disrupted by peripheral inputs, providing a potential mechanism for the reported role of CMT in eliciting arousal from sleep or anesthesia.
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