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Concept: Striatum


Generous behaviour is known to increase happiness, which could thereby motivate generosity. In this study, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging and a public pledge for future generosity to investigate the brain mechanisms that link generous behaviour with increases in happiness. Participants promised to spend money over the next 4 weeks either on others (experimental group) or on themselves (control group). Here, we report that, compared to controls, participants in the experimental group make more generous choices in an independent decision-making task and show stronger increases in self-reported happiness. Generous decisions engage the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) in the experimental more than in the control group and differentially modulate the connectivity between TPJ and ventral striatum. Importantly, striatal activity during generous decisions is directly related to changes in happiness. These results demonstrate that top-down control of striatal activity plays a fundamental role in linking commitment-induced generosity with happiness.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Brain tumor, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Human brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Striatum, Helium


Sleep control is ascribed to a two-process model, a widely accepted concept that posits homoeostatic drive and a circadian process as the major sleep-regulating factors. Cognitive and emotional factors also influence sleep-wake behaviour; however, the precise circuit mechanisms underlying their effects on sleep control are unknown. Previous studies suggest that adenosine has a role affecting behavioural arousal in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a brain area critical for reinforcement and reward. Here, we show that chemogenetic or optogenetic activation of excitatory adenosine A2A receptor-expressing indirect pathway neurons in the core region of the NAc strongly induces slow-wave sleep. Chemogenetic inhibition of the NAc indirect pathway neurons prevents the sleep induction, but does not affect the homoeostatic sleep rebound. In addition, motivational stimuli inhibit the activity of ventral pallidum-projecting NAc indirect pathway neurons and suppress sleep. Our findings reveal a prominent contribution of this indirect pathway to sleep control associated with motivation.In addition to circadian and homoeostatic drives, motivational levels influence sleep-wake cycles. Here the authors demonstrate that adenosine receptor-expressing neurons in the nucleus accumbens core that project to the ventral pallidum are inhibited by motivational stimuli and are causally involved in the control of slow-wave sleep.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Basal ganglia, Substantia nigra, Globus pallidus, Striatum, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway, Nucleus accumbens


The firing of mesolimbic dopamine neurons is important for drug-induced reinforcement, although underlying genetic factors remain poorly understood. In a recent genome-wide association metaanalysis of alcohol intake, we identified a suggestive association of SNP rs26907 in the ras-specific guanine-nucleotide releasing factor 2 (RASGRF2) gene, encoding a protein that mediates Ca(2+)-dependent activation of the ERK pathway. We performed functional characterization of this gene in relation to alcohol-related phenotypes and mesolimbic dopamine function in both mice and adolescent humans. Ethanol intake and preference were decreased in Rasgrf2(-/-) mice relative to WT controls. Accordingly, ethanol-induced dopamine release in the ventral striatum was blunted in Rasgrf2(-/-) mice. Recording of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area revealed reduced excitability in the absence of Ras-GRF2, likely because of lack of inhibition of the I(A) potassium current by ERK. This deficit provided an explanation for the altered dopamine release, presumably linked to impaired activation of dopamine neurons firing. Functional neuroimaging analysis of a monetary incentive-delay task in 663 adolescent boys revealed significant association of ventral striatal activity during reward anticipation with a RASGRF2 haplotype containing rs26907, the SNP associated with alcohol intake in our previous metaanalysis. This finding suggests a link between the RASGRF2 haplotype and reward sensitivity, a known risk factor for alcohol and drug addiction. Indeed, follow-up of these same boys at age 16 y revealed an association between this haplotype and number of drinking episodes. Together, these combined animal and human data indicate a role for RASGRF2 in the regulation of mesolimbic dopamine neuron activity, reward response, and alcohol use and abuse.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Drug addiction, Addiction, Striatum, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway, Nucleus accumbens, Reward system


Our reputation is important to us; we’ve experienced natural selection to care about our reputation. Recently, the neural processing of gains in reputation (positive social feedback concerning one’s character) has been shown to occur in the human ventral striatum. It is still unclear, however, how individual differences in the processing of gains in reputation may lead to individual differences in real-world behavior. For example, in the real-world, one way that people currently maintain their reputation is by using social media websites, like Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook use consists of a social comparison component, where users observe others' behavior and can compare it to their own. Therefore, we hypothesized a relationship between the way the brain processes specifically self-relevant gains in reputation and one’s degree of Facebook use. We recorded functional neuroimaging data while participants received gains in reputation, observed the gains in reputation of another person, or received monetary reward. We demonstrate that across participants, when responding to gains in reputation for the self, relative to observing gains for others, reward-related activity in the left nucleus accumbens predicts Facebook use. However, nucleus accumbens activity in response to monetary reward did not predict Facebook use. Finally, a control step-wise regression analysis showed that Facebook use primarily explains our results in the nucleus accumbens. Overall, our results demonstrate how individual sensitivity of the nucleus accumbens to the receipt of self-relevant social information leads to differences in real-world behavior.

Concepts: Scientific method, Ventral tegmental area, Observation, Hypothesis, Striatum, Nucleus accumbens, Social media, Ventral striatum


Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a polyglutamine repeat in the Huntingtin gene (HTT). Although suppressing the expression of mutant HTT (mHTT) has been explored as a therapeutic strategy to treat Huntington’s disease, considerable efforts have gone into developing allele-specific suppression of mHTT expression, given that loss of Htt in mice can lead to embryonic lethality. It remains unknown whether depletion of HTT in the adult brain, regardless of its allele, could be a safe therapy. Here, we report that permanent suppression of endogenous mHTT expression in the striatum of mHTT-expressing mice (HD140Q-knockin mice) using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated inactivation effectively depleted HTT aggregates and attenuated early neuropathology. The reduction of mHTT expression in striatal neuronal cells in adult HD140Q-knockin mice did not affect viability, but alleviated motor deficits. Our studies suggest that non-allele-specific CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing could be used to efficiently and permanently eliminate polyglutamine expansion-mediated neuronal toxicity in the adult brain.

Concepts: Medicine, Neuron, Gene, Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Striatum, Huntington's disease, Huntingtin


Finding creative solutions to difficult problems is a fundamental aspect of human culture and a skill highly needed. However, the exact neural processes underlying creative problem solving remain unclear. Insightful problem solving tasks were shown to be a valid method for investigating one subcomponent of creativity: the Aha!-moment. Finding insightful solutions during a remote associates task (RAT) was found to elicit specific cortical activity changes. Considering the strong affective components of Aha!-moments, as manifested in the subjectively experienced feeling of relief following the sudden emergence of the solution of the problem without any conscious forewarning, we hypothesized the subcortical dopaminergic reward network to be critically engaged during Aha. To investigate those subcortical contributions to insight, we employed ultra-high-field 7 T fMRI during a German Version of the RAT. During this task, subjects were exposed to word triplets and instructed to find a solution word being associated with all the three given words. They were supposed to press a button as soon as they felt confident about their solution without further revision, allowing us to capture the exact event of Aha!-moment. Besides the finding on cortical involvement of the left anterior middle temporal gyrus (aMTG), here we showed for the first time robust subcortical activity changes related to insightful problem solving in the bilateral thalamus, hippocampus, and the dopaminergic midbrain comprising ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and caudate nucleus. These results shed new light on the affective neural mechanisms underlying insightful problem solving.

Concepts: Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Basal ganglia, Substantia nigra, Striatum, Problem solving, Dopamine, Creativity


Humans devote 30-40% of speech output solely to informing others of their own subjective experiences. What drives this propensity for disclosure? Here, we test recent theories that individuals place high subjective value on opportunities to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others and that doing so engages neural and cognitive mechanisms associated with reward. Five studies provided support for this hypothesis. Self-disclosure was strongly associated with increased activation in brain regions that form the mesolimbic dopamine system, including the nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmental area. Moreover, individuals were willing to forgo money to disclose about the self. Two additional studies demonstrated that these effects stemmed from the independent value that individuals placed on self-referential thought and on simply sharing information with others. Together, these findings suggest that the human tendency to convey information about personal experience may arise from the intrinsic value associated with self-disclosure.

Concepts: Psychology, Ventral tegmental area, Basal ganglia, Striatum, Dopamine, Mesolimbic pathway, Nucleus accumbens, Amphetamine


Depression is associated with alterations in corticostriatal reward circuitry. One pathophysiological pathway that may drive these changes is inflammation. Biomarkers of inflammation (for example, cytokines and C-reactive protein (CRP)) are reliably elevated in depressed patients. Moreover, administration of inflammatory stimuli reduces neural activity and dopamine release in reward-related brain regions in association with reduced motivation and anhedonia. Accordingly, we examined whether increased inflammation in depression affects corticostriatal reward circuitry to lead to deficits in motivation and goal-directed motor behavior. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was conducted on 48 medically stable, unmedicated outpatients with major depression. Whole-brain, voxel-wise functional connectivity was examined as a function of CRP using seeds for subdivisions of the ventral and dorsal striatum associated with motivation and motor control. Increased CRP was associated with decreased connectivity between ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) (corrected P<0.05), which in turn correlated with increased anhedonia (R=-0.47, P=0.001). Increased CRP similarly predicted decreased dorsal striatal to vmPFC and presupplementary motor area connectivity, which correlated with decreased motor speed (R=0.31 to 0.45, P<0.05) and increased psychomotor slowing (R=-0.35, P=0.015). Of note, mediation analyses revealed that these effects of CRP on connectivity mediated significant relationships between CRP and anhedonia and motor slowing. Finally, connectivity between striatum and vmPFC was associated with increased plasma interleukin (IL)-6, IL-1beta and IL-1 receptor antagonist (R=-0.33 to -0.36, P<0.05). These findings suggest that decreased corticostriatal connectivity may serve as a target for anti-inflammatory or pro-dopaminergic treatment strategies to improve motivational and motor deficits in patients with increased inflammation, including depression.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 10 November 2015; doi:10.1038/mp.2015.168.

Concepts: Inflammation, Ventral tegmental area, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Striatum, Prefrontal cortex, Dopamine


It has been proposed that the acquisition of drug seeking is related to the development of conditioned dopamine responses in the ventral striatum. As drug use continues and becomes habit-like, conditioned responses have been shown to shift to the dorsal striatum. Here, using the PET [(11)C]raclopride method and highly personalized cocaine cues, we report the first evidence in humans of the dorsal dopamine response prior to the onset of addiction.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Nicotine, Parkinson's disease, Substantia nigra, Drug addiction, Striatum, Dopamine, Nucleus accumbens


Cannabis use is associated with working memory (WM) impairments; however, the relationship between cannabis use and WM neural circuitry is unclear. We examined whether a cannabis use disorder (CUD) was associated with differences in brain morphology between control subjects with and without a CUD and between schizophrenia subjects with and without a CUD, and whether these differences related to WM and CUD history. Subjects group-matched on demographics included 44 healthy controls, 10 subjects with a CUD history, 28 schizophrenia subjects with no history of substance use disorders, and 15 schizophrenia subjects with a CUD history. Large-deformation high-dimensional brain mapping with magnetic resonance imaging was used to obtain surface-based representations of the striatum, globus pallidus, and thalamus, compared across groups, and correlated with WM and CUD history. Surface maps were generated to visualize morphological differences. There were significant cannabis-related parametric decreases in WM across groups. Similar cannabis-related shape differences were observed in the striatum, globus pallidus, and thalamus in controls and schizophrenia subjects. Cannabis-related striatal and thalamic shape differences correlated with poorer WM and younger age of CUD onset in both groups. Schizophrenia subjects demonstrated cannabis-related neuroanatomical differences that were consistent and exaggerated compared with cannabis-related differences found in controls. The cross-sectional results suggest that both CUD groups were characterized by WM deficits and subcortical neuroanatomical differences. Future longitudinal studies could help determine whether cannabis use contributes to these observed shape differences or whether they are biomarkers of a vulnerability to the effects of cannabis that predate its misuse.

Concepts: Brain, Neuroscience, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Basal ganglia, Globus pallidus, Striatum, Primate basal ganglia system