Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience


Intracellular Ca(2+) signals control the development and regeneration of spinal axons downstream of chemical guidance cues, but little is known about the roles of mechanical cues in axon guidance. Here we show that transient receptor potential canonical 1 (TRPC1) subunits assemble mechanosensitive (MS) channels on Xenopus neuronal growth cones that regulate the extension and direction of axon outgrowth on rigid, but not compliant, substrata. Reducing expression of TRPC1 by antisense morpholinos inhibits the effects of MS channel blockers on axon outgrowth and local Ca(2+) transients. Ca(2+) influx through MS TRPC1 activates the protease calpain, which cleaves the integrin adaptor protein talin to reduce Src-dependent axon outgrowth, likely through altered adhesion turnover. We found that talin accumulates at the tips of dynamic filopodia, which is lost upon cleavage of talin by active calpain. This pathway may also be important in axon guidance decisions since asymmetric inhibition of MS TRPC1 is sufficient to induce growth cone turning. Together our results suggest that Ca(2+) influx through MS TRPC1 on filopodia activates calpain to control growth cone turning during development.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Developmental biology, Action potential, Axon, Axon guidance, Growth cone, Filopodia


Due to capacity limits on perception, conditions of high perceptual load lead to reduced processing of unattended stimuli (Lavie et al., 2014). Accumulating work demonstrates the effects of visual perceptual load on visual cortex responses, but the effects on auditory processing remain poorly understood. Here we establish the neural mechanisms underlying “inattentional deafness”-the failure to perceive auditory stimuli under high visual perceptual load. Participants performed a visual search task of low (target dissimilar to nontarget items) or high (target similar to nontarget items) load. On a random subset (50%) of trials, irrelevant tones were presented concurrently with the visual stimuli. Brain activity was recorded with magnetoencephalography, and time-locked responses to the visual search array and to the incidental presence of unattended tones were assessed. High, compared to low, perceptual load led to increased early visual evoked responses (within 100 ms from onset). This was accompanied by reduced early (∼100 ms from tone onset) auditory evoked activity in superior temporal sulcus and posterior middle temporal gyrus. A later suppression of the P3 “awareness” response to the tones was also observed under high load. A behavioral experiment revealed reduced tone detection sensitivity under high visual load, indicating that the reduction in neural responses was indeed associated with reduced awareness of the sounds. These findings support a neural account of shared audiovisual resources, which, when depleted under load, leads to failures of sensory perception and awareness.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Understanding, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Mind, Evoked potential


It is well-established that active rehearsal increases the efficacy of memory consolidation. It is also known that complex events are interpreted with reference to prior knowledge. However, comparatively little attention has been given to the neural underpinnings of these effects. In healthy adults humans, we investigated the impact of effortful, active rehearsal on memory for events by showing people several short video clips and then asking them to recall these clips, either aloud (Experiment 1) or silently while in an MRI scanner (Experiment 2). In both experiments, actively rehearsed clips were remembered in far greater detail than unrehearsed clips when tested a week later. In Experiment 1, highly similar descriptions of events were produced across retrieval trials, suggesting a degree of semanticization of the memories had taken place. In Experiment 2, spatial patterns of BOLD signal in medial temporal and posterior midline regions were correlated when encoding and rehearsing the same video. Moreover, the strength of this correlation in the posterior cingulate predicted the amount of information subsequently recalled. This is likely to reflect a strengthening of the representation of the video’s content. We argue that these representations combine both new episodic information and stored semantic knowledge (or “schemas”). We therefore suggest that posterior midline structures aid consolidation by reinstating and strengthening the associations between episodic details and more generic schematic information. This leads to the creation of coherent memory representations of lifelike, complex events that are resistant to forgetting, but somewhat inflexible and semantic-like in nature.

Concepts: Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Episodic memory, Semantic memory, Cingulate cortex, Memory consolidation, Video clip


Despite extensive research on inhibitory control (IC) and its neural systems, the questions of whether IC can be improved with training and how the associated neural systems change are understudied. Behavioral evidence suggests that performance on IC tasks improves with training but that these gains do not transfer to other tasks, and almost nothing is known about how activation in IC-related brain regions changes with training. Human participants were randomly assigned to receive IC training (N = 30) on an adaptive version of the stop-signal task (SST) or an active sham-training (N = 30) during 10 sessions across 3 weeks. Neural activation during the SST before and after training was assessed in both groups using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Performance on the SST improved significantly more in the training group than in the control group. The pattern of neuroimaging results was consistent with a proactive control model such that activity in key parts of the IC network shifted earlier in time within the trial, becoming associated with cues that anticipated the upcoming need for IC. Specifically, activity in the inferior frontal gyrus decreased during the implementation of control (i.e., stopping) and increased during cues that preceded the implementation of IC from pretraining to post-training. Also, steeper behavioral improvement in the training group correlated with activation increases during the cue phase and decreases during implementation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These results are the first to uncover the neural pathways for training-related improvements in IC and can explain previous null findings of IC training transfer.

Concepts: Better, Brain, Improve, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Frontal lobe, Brodmann area


Noninvasive brain stimulation provides a potential tool for affecting brain functions in the typical and atypical brain and offers in several cases an alternative to pharmaceutical intervention. Some studies have suggested that transcranial electrical stimulation (TES), a form of noninvasive brain stimulation, can also be used to enhance cognitive performance. Critically, research so far has primarily focused on optimizing protocols for effective stimulation, or assessing potential physical side effects of TES while neglecting the possibility of cognitive side effects. We assessed this possibility by targeting the high-level cognitive abilities of learning and automaticity in the mathematical domain. Notably, learning and automaticity represent critical abilities for potential cognitive enhancement in typical and atypical populations. Over 6 d, healthy human adults underwent cognitive training on a new numerical notation while receiving TES to the posterior parietal cortex or the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Stimulation to the the posterior parietal cortex facilitated numerical learning, whereas automaticity for the learned material was impaired. In contrast, stimulation to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex impaired the learning process, whereas automaticity for the learned material was enhanced. The observed double dissociation indicates that cognitive enhancement through TES can occur at the expense of other cognitive functions. These findings have important implications for the future use of enhancement technologies for neurointervention and performance improvement in healthy populations.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognition, Cerebrum, Educational psychology, Knowledge, Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe


In human participants, the intensive practice of particular cognitive activities can induce sustained improvements in cognitive performance, which in some cases transfer to benefits on untrained activities. Despite the growing body of research examining the behavioral effects of cognitive training in children, no studies have explored directly the neural basis of these training effects in a systematic, controlled fashion. Therefore, the impact of training on brain neurophysiology in childhood, and the mechanisms by which benefits may be achieved, are unknown. Here, we apply new methods to examine dynamic neurophysiological connectivity in the context of a randomized trial of adaptive working memory training undertaken in children. After training, connectivity between frontoparietal networks and both lateral occipital complex and inferior temporal cortex was altered. Furthermore, improvements in working memory after training were associated with increased strength of neural connectivity at rest, with the magnitude of these specific neurophysiological changes being mirrored by individual gains in untrained working memory performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Skull


Receiving social feedback such as praise or blame for one’s character traits is a key component of everyday human interactions. It has been proposed that humans are positively biased when integrating social feedback into their self-concept. However, a mechanistic description of how humans process self-relevant feedback is lacking. Here, participants received feedback from peers after a real-life interaction. Participants processed feedback in a positively biased way, i.e., they changed their self-evaluations more toward desirable than toward undesirable feedback. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging we investigated two feedback components. First, the reward-related component correlated with activity in ventral striatum and in anterior cingulate cortex/medial prefrontal cortex (ACC/MPFC). Second, the comparison-related component correlated with activity in the mentalizing network, including the MPFC, the temporoparietal junction, the superior temporal sulcus, the temporal pole, and the inferior frontal gyrus. This comparison-related activity within the mentalizing system has a parsimonious interpretation, i.e., activity correlated with the differences between participants' own evaluation and feedback. Importantly, activity within the MPFC that integrated reward-related and comparison-related components predicted the self-related positive updating bias across participants offering a mechanistic account of positively biased feedback processing. Thus, theories on both reward and mentalizing are important for a better understanding of how social information is integrated into the human self-concept.

Concepts: Brain, Interaction, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Feedback, Inferior frontal gyrus


The need to breathe links the mammalian olfactory system inextricably to the respiratory rhythms that draw air through the nose. In rodents and other small animals, slow oscillations of local field potential activity are driven at the rate of breathing (∼2-12 Hz) in olfactory bulb and cortex, and faster oscillatory bursts are coupled to specific phases of the respiratory cycle. These dynamic rhythms are thought to regulate cortical excitability and coordinate network interactions, helping to shape olfactory coding, memory, and behavior. However, while respiratory oscillations are a ubiquitous hallmark of olfactory system function in animals, direct evidence for such patterns is lacking in humans. In this study, we acquired intracranial EEG data from rare patients (Ps) with medically refractory epilepsy, enabling us to test the hypothesis that cortical oscillatory activity would be entrained to the human respiratory cycle, albeit at the much slower rhythm of ∼0.16-0.33 Hz. Our results reveal that natural breathing synchronizes electrical activity in human piriform (olfactory) cortex, as well as in limbic-related brain areas, including amygdala and hippocampus. Notably, oscillatory power peaked during inspiration and dissipated when breathing was diverted from nose to mouth. Parallel behavioral experiments showed that breathing phase enhances fear discrimination and memory retrieval. Our findings provide a unique framework for understanding the pivotal role of nasal breathing in coordinating neuronal oscillations to support stimulus processing and behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Olfactory bulb, Olfaction, Limbic system, Nasal cavity


The striatum is a major input site of the basal ganglia, which play an essential role in decision making. Previous studies have suggested that subareas of the striatum have distinct roles: the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) functions in habitual action, the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) in goal-directed actions, and the ventral striatum (VS) in motivation. To elucidate distinctive functions of subregions of the striatum in decision making, we systematically investigated information represented by phasically active neurons in DLS, DMS, and VS. Rats performed two types of choice tasks: fixed- and free-choice tasks. In both tasks, rats were required to perform nose poking to either the left or right hole after cue-tone presentation. A food pellet was delivered probabilistically depending on the presented cue and the selected action. The reward probability was fixed in fixed-choice task and varied in a block-wise manner in free-choice task. We found the following: (1) when rats began the tasks, a majority of VS neurons increased their firing rates and information regarding task type and state value was most strongly represented in VS; (2) during action selection, information of action and action values was most strongly represented in DMS; (3) action-command information (action representation before action selection) was stronger in the fixed-choice task than in the free-choice task in both DLS and DMS; and (4) action-command information was strongest in DLS, particularly when the same choice was repeated. We propose a hypothesis of hierarchical reinforcement learning in the basal ganglia to coherently explain these results.

Concepts: Nervous system, Ganglion, Ventral tegmental area, Basal ganglia, Acetylcholine, Dopamine, Nucleus accumbens


An important function of sleep is the consolidation of memories, and features of sleep, such as rapid eye movement (REM) or sleep spindles, have been shown to correlate with improvements in discrete memory domains. Because of the methodological difficulties in modulating sleep, however, a causal link between specific sleep features and human memory consolidation is lacking. Here, we experimentally manipulated specific sleep features during a daytime nap via direct pharmacological intervention. Using zolpidem (Ambien), a short-acting GABAA agonist hypnotic, we show increased sleep spindle density and decreased REM sleep compared with placebo and sodium oxybate (Xyrem). Naps with increased spindles produced significantly better verbal memory and significantly worse perceptual learning but did not affect motor learning. The experimental spindles were similar to control spindles in amplitude and frequency, suggesting that the experimental intervention enhanced normal sleep processes. Furthermore, using statistical methods, we demonstrate for the first time a critical role of spindles in human hippocampal memory performance. The gains in memory consolidation exceed sleep-alone or control conditions and demonstrate the potential for targeted, exceptional memory enhancement in healthy adults with pharmacologically modified sleep.

Concepts: Psychology, Pharmacology, Sleep, Memory, Hippocampus, Episodic memory, Rapid eye movement sleep, Hypnotic