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Concept: Ventral tegmental area

192

Dopamine has a central role in motivation and reward. Dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) signal the discrepancy between expected and actual rewards (that is, reward prediction error), but how they compute such signals is unknown. We recorded the activity of VTA neurons while mice associated different odour cues with appetitive and aversive outcomes. We found three types of neuron based on responses to odours and outcomes: approximately half of the neurons (type I, 52%) showed phasic excitation after reward-predicting odours and rewards in a manner consistent with reward prediction error coding; the other half of neurons showed persistent activity during the delay between odour and outcome that was modulated positively (type II, 31%) or negatively (type III, 18%) by the value of outcomes. Whereas the activity of type I neurons was sensitive to actual outcomes (that is, when the reward was delivered as expected compared to when it was unexpectedly omitted), the activity of type II and type III neurons was determined predominantly by reward-predicting odours. We ‘tagged’ dopaminergic and GABAergic neurons with the light-sensitive protein channelrhodopsin-2 and identified them based on their responses to optical stimulation while recording. All identified dopaminergic neurons were of type I and all GABAergic neurons were of type II. These results show that VTA GABAergic neurons signal expected reward, a key variable for dopaminergic neurons to calculate reward prediction error.

Concepts: Neuron, Mesolimbic pathway, American films, Game theory, Ventral tegmental area, Reward system, Nervous system, Dopamine

191

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

190

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

182

The human voice is a critical social cue, and listeners are extremely sensitive to the voices in their environment. One of the most salient voices in a child’s life is mother’s voice: Infants discriminate their mother’s voice from the first days of life, and this stimulus is associated with guiding emotional and social function during development. Little is known regarding the functional circuits that are selectively engaged in children by biologically salient voices such as mother’s voice or whether this brain activity is related to children’s social communication abilities. We used functional MRI to measure brain activity in 24 healthy children (mean age, 10.2 y) while they attended to brief (<1 s) nonsense words produced by their biological mother and two female control voices and explored relationships between speech-evoked neural activity and social function. Compared to female control voices, mother's voice elicited greater activity in primary auditory regions in the midbrain and cortex; voice-selective superior temporal sulcus (STS); the amygdala, which is crucial for processing of affect; nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex of the reward circuit; anterior insula and cingulate of the salience network; and a subregion of fusiform gyrus associated with face perception. The strength of brain connectivity between voice-selective STS and reward, affective, salience, memory, and face-processing regions during mother's voice perception predicted social communication skills. Our findings provide a novel neurobiological template for investigation of typical social development as well as clinical disorders, such as autism, in which perception of biologically and socially salient voices may be impaired.

Concepts: Sociology, Ventral tegmental area, Temporal lobe, Neuroanatomy, Dopamine, Brain, Limbic system, Cerebrum

181

The ventral subiculum (vSUB) plays a key role in addiction, and identifying the neuronal circuits and synaptic mechanisms by which vSUB alters the excitability of dopamine neurons is a necessary step to understand the motor changes induced by cocaine. Here, we report that high-frequency stimulation of the vSUB (HFSvSUB) over-activates ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons in vivo and triggers long-lasting modifications of synaptic transmission measured ex vivo. This potentiation is caused by NMDA-dependent plastic changes occurring in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). Finally, we report that the modification of the BNST-VTA neural circuits induced by HFSvSUB potentiates locomotor activity induced by a sub-threshold dose of cocaine. Our findings unravel a neuronal circuit encoding behavioral effects of cocaine in rats and highlight the importance of adaptive modifications in the BNST, a structure that influences motivated behavior as well as maladaptive behaviors associated with addiction.

Concepts: Psychology, Motivation, Human behavior, Ventral tegmental area, Neuron, Nicotine, Nervous system, Dopamine

172

Physical activity reduces the incidence and severity of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression. Similarly, voluntary wheel running produces anxiolytic- and antidepressant-like effects in rodent models. The specific neurobiological mechanisms underlying the beneficial properties of exercise, however, remain unclear. One relevant pharmacological target in the treatment of psychiatric disorders is the 5-HT(2C) receptor (5-HT(2C)R). Consistent with data demonstrating the anxiogenic consequences of 5-HT(2C)R activation in humans and rodents, we have previously reported that site-specific administration of the selective 5-HT(2C)R agonist CP-809101 in the lateral/basolateral amygdala (BLA) increases shock-elicited fear while administration of CP-809101 in the dorsal striatum (DS) interferes with shuttle box escape learning. These findings suggest that activation of 5-HT(2C)R in discrete brain regions contributes to specific anxiety- and depression-like behaviors and may indicate potential brain sites involved in the anxiolytic and antidepressant effects of exercise. The current studies tested the hypothesis that voluntary wheel running reduces the behavioral consequences of 5-HT(2C)R activation in the BLA and DS, specifically enhanced shock-elicited fear and interference with shuttle box escape learning. After 6 weeks of voluntary wheel running or sedentary conditions, the selective 5-HT(2C)R agonist CP-809101 was microinjected into either the BLA or the DS of adult Fischer 344 rats, and shock-elicited fear and shuttle box escape learning was assessed. Additionally, in-situ hybridization was used to determine if 6 weeks of voluntary exercise changed levels of 5-HT(2C)R mRNA. We found that voluntary wheel running reduced the behavioral effects of CP-809101 and reduced levels of 5-HT(2C)R mRNA in both the BLA and the DS. The current data indicate that expression of 5-HT(2C)R mRNA in discrete brain sites is sensitive to physical activity status of the organism, and implicates the 5-HT(2C)R as a target for the beneficial effects of physical activity on mental health.

Concepts: Obesity, Psychiatry, Anxiety disorder, Anxiety, Cerebrum, Ventral tegmental area, Mental disorder, Psychology

170

Neuroimaging studies using positron emission tomography suggest that reduced dopamine D(2) receptor availability in the neostriatum is associated with increased vulnerability to drug addiction in humans and experimental animals. The role of D(3) receptors (D(3)Rs) in the neurobiology of addiction remains unclear, however. Here we report that D(3)R KO (D(3)(-/-)) mice display enhanced cocaine self-administration and enhanced motivation for cocaine-taking and cocaine-seeking behavior. This increased vulnerability to cocaine is accompanied by decreased dopamine response to cocaine secondary to increased basal levels of extracellular dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, suggesting a compensatory response to decreased cocaine reward in D(3)(-/-) mice. In addition, D(3)(-/-) mice also display up-regulation of dopamine transporters in the striatum, suggesting a neuroadaptative attempt to normalize elevated basal extracellular dopamine. These findings suggest that D(3)R deletion increases vulnerability to cocaine, and that reduced D(3)R availability in the brain may constitute a risk factor for the development of cocaine addiction.

Concepts: Drug addiction, Putamen, Positron emission tomography, Cocaine, Nucleus accumbens, Substantia nigra, Dopamine, Ventral tegmental area

153

Excess sugar consumption has been shown to contribute directly to weight gain, thus contributing to the growing worldwide obesity epidemic. Interestingly, increased sugar consumption has been shown to repeatedly elevate dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain similar to many drugs of abuse. We report that varenicline, an FDA-approved nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist that modulates dopamine in the mesolimbic reward pathway of the brain, significantly reduces sucrose consumption, especially in a long-term consumption paradigm. Similar results were observed with other nAChR drugs, namely mecamylamine and cytisine. Furthermore, we show that long-term sucrose consumption increases α4β2 * and decreases α6β2* nAChRs in the nucleus accumbens, a key brain region associated with reward. Taken together, our results suggest that nAChR drugs such as varenicline may represent a novel treatment strategy for reducing sugar consumption.

Concepts: Ventral tegmental area, Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, Nicotine, Neurotransmitter, Mesolimbic pathway, Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor

145

Reward hypersensitization is a common feature of neuropsychiatric disorders, manifesting as impulsivity for anticipated incentives. Temporally specific changes in activity within the nucleus accumbens (NAc), which occur during anticipatory periods preceding consummatory behavior, represent a critical opportunity for intervention. However, no available therapy is capable of automatically sensing and therapeutically responding to this vulnerable moment in time when anticipation-related neural signals may be present. To identify translatable biomarkers for an off-the-shelf responsive neurostimulation system, we record local field potentials from the NAc of mice and a human anticipating conventional rewards. We find increased power in 1- to 4-Hz oscillations predominate during reward anticipation, which can effectively trigger neurostimulation that reduces consummatory behavior in mice sensitized to highly palatable food. Similar oscillations are present in human NAc during reward anticipation, highlighting the translational potential of our findings in the development of a treatment for a major unmet need.

Concepts: Reward, Nucleus accumbens, Psychology, Human behavior, Ventral tegmental area, Mesolimbic pathway, Dopamine, Motivation

126

The motivation to seek social contact may arise from either positive or negative emotional states, as social interaction can be rewarding and social isolation can be aversive. While ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons may mediate social reward, a cellular substrate for the negative affective state of loneliness has remained elusive. Here, we identify a functional role for DA neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), in which we observe synaptic changes following acute social isolation. DRN DA neurons show increased activity upon social contact following isolation, revealed by in vivo calcium imaging. Optogenetic activation of DRN DA neurons increases social preference but causes place avoidance. Furthermore, these neurons are necessary for promoting rebound sociability following an acute period of isolation. Finally, the degree to which these neurons modulate behavior is predicted by social rank, together supporting a role for DRN dopamine neurons in mediating a loneliness-like state. PAPERCLIP.

Concepts: Social relation, Motivation, Emotion, Raphe nuclei, Reward system, Ventral tegmental area, Sociology, Dopamine