Synapses are found in vast numbers in the brain and contain complex proteomes. We developed genetic labeling and imaging methods to examine synaptic proteins in individual excitatory synapses across all regions of the mouse brain. Synapse catalogs were generated from the molecular and morphological features of a billion synapses. Each synapse subtype showed a unique anatomical distribution, and each brain region showed a distinct signature of synapse subtypes. Whole-brain synaptome cartography revealed spatial architecture from dendritic to global systems levels and previously unknown anatomical features. Synaptome mapping of circuits showed correspondence between synapse diversity and structural and functional connectomes. Behaviorally relevant patterns of neuronal activity trigger spatiotemporal postsynaptic responses sensitive to the structure of synaptome maps. Areas controlling higher cognitive function contain the greatest synapse diversity, and mutations causing cognitive disorders reorganized synaptome maps. Synaptome technology and resources have wide-ranging application in studies of the normal and diseased brain.
The olfactory bulbs (OBs) are the first site of odor representation in the mammalian brain, and their unique ultrastructure is considered a necessary substrate for spatiotemporal coding of smell. Given this, we were struck by the serendipitous observation at MRI of two otherwise healthy young left-handed women, yet with no apparent OBs. Standardized tests revealed normal odor awareness, detection, discrimination, identification, and representation. Functional MRI of these women’s brains revealed that odorant-induced activity in piriform cortex, the primary OB target, was similar in its extent to that of intact controls. Finally, review of a public brain-MRI database with 1,113 participants (606 women) also tested for olfactory performance, uncovered olfaction without anatomically defined OBs in ∼0.6% of women and ∼4.25% of left-handed women. Thus, humans can perform the basic facets of olfaction without canonical OBs, implying extreme plasticity in the functional neuroanatomy of this sensory system.
Humans detect skin temperature changes that are perceived as warm or cool. Like humans, mice report forepaw skin warming with perceptual thresholds of less than 1°C and do not confuse warm with cool. We identify two populations of polymodal C-fibers that signal warm. Warm excites one population, whereas it suppresses the ongoing cool-driven firing of the other. In the absence of the thermosensitive TRPM2 or TRPV1 ion channels, warm perception was blunted, but not abolished. In addition, trpv1:trpa1:trpm3-/- triple-mutant mice that cannot sense noxious heat detected skin warming, albeit with reduced sensitivity. In contrast, loss or local pharmacological silencing of the cool-driven TRPM8 channel abolished the ability to detect warm. Our data are not reconcilable with a labeled line model for warm perception, with receptors firing only in response to warm stimuli, but instead support a conserved dual sensory model to unambiguously detect skin warming in vertebrates.
The ability to infer intentions of other agents, called theory of mind (ToM), confers strong advantages for individuals in social situations. Here, we show that ToM can also be maladaptive when people interact with complex modern institutions like financial markets. We tested participants who were investing in an experimental bubble market, a situation in which the price of an asset is much higher than its underlying fundamental value. We describe a mechanism by which social signals computed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex affect value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, thereby increasing an individual’s propensity to ‘ride’ financial bubbles and lose money. These regions compute a financial metric that signals variations in order flow intensity, prompting inference about other traders' intentions. Our results suggest that incorporating inferences about the intentions of others when making value judgments in a complex financial market could lead to the formation of market bubbles.
Balance of cortical excitation and inhibition (EI) is thought to be disrupted in several neuropsychiatric conditions, yet it is not clear how it is maintained in the healthy human brain. When EI balance is disturbed during learning and memory in animal models, it can be restabilized via formation of inhibitory replicas of newly formed excitatory connections. Here we assess evidence for such selective inhibitory rebalancing in humans. Using fMRI repetition suppression we measure newly formed cortical associations in the human brain. We show that expression of these associations reduces over time despite persistence in behavior, consistent with inhibitory rebalancing. To test this, we modulated excitation/inhibition balance with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Using ultra-high-field (7T) MRI and spectroscopy, we show that reducing GABA allows cortical associations to be re-expressed. This suggests that in humans associative memories are stored in balanced excitatory-inhibitory ensembles that lie dormant unless latent inhibitory connections are unmasked.
Accurate decisions require knowledge of prior probabilities (e.g., prevalence or base rate), but it is unclear how prior probabilities are learned in the absence of a teacher. We hypothesized that humans could learn base rates from experience making decisions, even without feedback. Participants made difficult decisions about the direction of dynamic random dot motion. Across blocks of 15-42 trials, the base rate favoring left or right varied. Participants were not informed of the base rate or choice accuracy, yet they gradually biased their choices and thereby increased accuracy and confidence in their decisions. They achieved this by updating knowledge of base rate after each decision, using a counterfactual representation of confidence that simulates a neutral prior. The strategy is consistent with Bayesian updating of belief and suggests that humans represent both true confidence, which incorporates the evolving belief of the prior, and counterfactual confidence, which discounts the prior.
Investigators have long suspected that pathogenic microbes might contribute to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) although definitive evidence has not been presented. Whether such findings represent a causal contribution, or reflect opportunistic passengers of neurodegeneration, is also difficult to resolve. We constructed multiscale networks of the late-onset AD-associated virome, integrating genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and histopathological data across four brain regions from human post-mortem tissue. We observed increased human herpesvirus 6A (HHV-6A) and human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) from subjects with AD compared with controls. These results were replicated in two additional, independent and geographically dispersed cohorts. We observed regulatory relationships linking viral abundance and modulators of APP metabolism, including induction of APBB2, APPBP2, BIN1, BACE1, CLU, PICALM, and PSEN1 by HHV-6A. This study elucidates networks linking molecular, clinical, and neuropathological features with viral activity and is consistent with viral activity constituting a general feature of AD.
Planning allows actions to be structured in pursuit of a future goal. However, in natural environments, planning over multiple possible future states incurs prohibitive computational costs. To represent plans efficiently, states can be clustered hierarchically into “contexts”. For example, representing a journey through a subway network as a succession of individual states (stations) is more costly than encoding a sequence of contexts (lines) and context switches (line changes). Here, using functional brain imaging, we asked humans to perform a planning task in a virtual subway network. Behavioral analyses revealed that humans executed a hierarchically organized plan. Brain activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and premotor cortex scaled with the cost of hierarchical plan representation and unique neural signals in these regions signaled contexts and context switches. These results suggest that humans represent hierarchical plans using a network of caudal prefrontal structures. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
The creation of memories about real-life episodes requires rapid neuronal changes that may appear after a single occurrence of an event. How is such demand met by neurons in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which plays a fundamental role in episodic memory formation? We recorded the activity of MTL neurons in neurosurgical patients while they learned new associations. Pairs of unrelated pictures, one of a person and another of a place, were used to construct a meaningful association modeling the episodic memory of meeting a person in a particular place. We found that a large proportion of responsive MTL neurons expanded their selectivity to encode these specific associations within a few trials: cells initially responsive to one picture started firing to the associated one but not to others. Our results provide a plausible neural substrate for the inception of associations, which are crucial for the formation of episodic memories.
Improving the reproducibility of neuroscience research is of great concern, especially to early-career researchers (ECRs). Here I outline the potential costs for ECRs in adopting practices to improve reproducibility. I highlight the ways in which ECRs can achieve their career goals while doing better science and the need for established researchers to support them in these efforts.