Coordination of brain wide activity dynamics by dopaminergic neurons

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Several neuropsychiatric conditions, such as addiction, schizophrenia, and depression may arise in part from dysregulated activity of ventral tegmental area dopaminergic (THVTA) neurons, as well as from more global maladaptation in neurocircuit function. However, whether THVTA activity affects large-scale brain-wide function remains unknown. Here, we selectively activated THVTA neurons in transgenic rats and measured resulting changes in whole-brain activity using stimulus-evoked functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Selective optogenetic stimulation of THVTA neurons not only enhanced cerebral blood volume (CBV) signals in striatal target regions in a dopamine receptor dependent fashion, but also engaged many additional anatomically defined regions throughout the brain. In addition, repeated pairing of THVTA neuronal activity with forepaw stimulation, produced an expanded brain-wide sensory representation. These data suggest that modulation of THVTA neurons can impact brain dynamics across many distributed anatomically distinct regions, even those that receive little to no direct THVTA input.


Evidence for selective attention in the insect brain

Benjamin L de Bivort, Bruno van Swinderen
The capacity for selective attention appears to be required for any animal responding to an environment containing multiple objects, although this has been difficult to study in smaller animals such as insects. Clear operational characteristics of attention however make study of this crucial brain function accessible to any animal model. Whereas earlier approaches have relied on freely behaving paradigms placed in an ecologically relevant context, recent tethered preparations have focused on brain imaging and electrophysiology in virtual reality environments. Insight into brain activity during attention-like behavior has revealed key elements of attention in the insect brain. Surprisingly, a variety of brain structures appear to be involved, suggesting that even in the smallest brains attention might involve widespread coordination of neural activity.

Sensitive red protein calcium indicators for imaging neural activity

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Genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) allow measurement of activity in large populations of neurons and in small neuronal compartments, over times of milliseconds to months. Although GFP-based GECIs are widely used for in vivo neurophysiology, GECIs with red-shifted excitation and emission spectra have advantages for in vivo imaging because of reduced scattering and absorption in tissue, and a consequent reduction in phototoxicity. However, current red GECIs are inferior to the state-of-the-art GFP-based GCaMP6 indicators for detecting and quantifying neural activity. Here we present improved red GECIs based on mRuby (jRCaMP1a, b) and mApple (jRGECO1a), with sensitivity comparable to GCaMP6. We characterized the performance of the new red GECIs in cultured neurons and in mouse, Drosophila, zebrafish and C. elegans in vivo. Red GECIs facilitate deep-tissue imaging, dual-color imaging together with GFP-based reporters, and the use of optogenetics in combination with calcium imaging.

A probability distribution over latent causes in the orbitofrontal cortex

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The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been implicated in both the representation of “state”, in studies of reinforcement learning and decision making, and also in the representation of “schemas”, in studies of episodic memory. Both of these cognitive constructs require a similar inference about the underlying situation or “latent cause” that generates our observations at any given time. The statistically optimal solution to this inference problem is to use Bayes rule to compute a posterior probability distribution over latent causes. To test whether such a posterior probability distribution is represented in the OFC, we tasked human participants with inferring a probability distribution over four possible latent causes, based on their observations. Using fMRI pattern similarity analyses, we found that BOLD activity in OFC is best explained as representing the (log-transformed) posterior distribution over latent causes. Furthermore, this pattern explained OFC activity better than other task-relevant alternatives such as the most probable latent cause, the most recent observation, or the uncertainty over latent causes.

Conformational dynamics of Tau in the cell quantified by an intramolecular FRET biosensor in physiological and pathological context

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Impaired interactions of Tau protein with microtubules (MT) and Tau misfolding play a key role in Alzheimer disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative diseases collectively named Tauopathies. However, little is known about the molecular conformational changes that underlie Tau misfolding and aggregation in pathological conditions, due to the difficulty of studying structural aspects of this intrinsically unfolded protein, particularly in the context of living cells. Here we developed a new Conformational-Sensitive Tau sensor (CST), based on human Tau full length protein, to investigate the changes in 3D conformation and aggregation state of Tau upon modulation of its interactions with MTs in living cells, in physiological and pathological conditions. After showing that the CST fully preserves functional Tau activities in living cells, we demonstrated that MT-bound Tau displays a loop-like conformation, while soluble Tau assumes a relaxed conformation. The imaging readout based on CST allowed to discover new conformational properties of full length Tau in living cells, when challenged with Alzheimer-relevant seeds from different sources, and to learn about different ways to induce the self-aggregation of full length Tau in cells. Furthermore, it allowed to investigate the contribution to the pathology of point mutations known to alter Tau/MTs interaction.

A Dendritic Disinhibitory Circuit Mechanism for Pathway-Specific Gating

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In this work we propose that a disinhibitory circuit motif, which recently gained experimental support, can instantiate flexible routing of information flow along selective pathways in a complex system of cortical areas according to behavioral demands (pathway-specific gating). We developed a network model of pyramidal neurons and three classes of interneurons, with connection probabilities constrained by data. If distinct input pathways cluster on separate dendritic branches of pyramidal neurons, then a pathway can be gated-on by disinhibiting targeted dendrites. We show that this branch-specific disinhibition can be achieved despite dense interneuronal connectivity, even under the assumption of random connections. We found clustering of input pathways on dendrites can emerge through synaptic plasticity regulated by disinhibition. This gating mechanism in a neural circuit is further demonstrated by performing a context-dependent decision-making task. Our findings suggest a microcircuit architecture that harnesses dendritic computation and diverse inhibitory neuron types to subserve cognitive flexibility.