Animals seek out relevant information by moving through a dynamic world, but sensory systems are usually studied under highly constrained and passive conditions that may not probe important dimensions of the neural code. Here we explored neural coding in the barrel cortex of head-fixed mice that tracked walls with their whiskers in tactile virtual reality. Optogenetic manipulations revealed that barrel cortex plays a role in wall-tracking. Closed-loop optogenetic control of layer 4 neurons can substitute for whisker-object contact to guide behavior resembling wall tracking. We measured neural activity using two-photon calcium imaging and extracellular recordings. Neurons were tuned to the distance between the animal snout and the contralateral wall, with monotonic, unimodal, and multimodal tuning curves. This rich representation of object location in the barrel cortex could not be predicted based on simple stimulus-response relationships involving individual whiskers and likely emerges within cortical circuits.
Animal experimentation: All procedures were in accordance with protocols approved by the Janelia Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. (IACUC 14-115)
- Sacha B Nelson, Brandeis University, United States
© 2015, Sofroniew et al.
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.
Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)
Download citations (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)
Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)
The examination of phylogenetic and phenotypic characteristics of the nervous system, such as behavior and neuroanatomy, can be utilized as a means to assess speciation. Recent studies have proposed a fundamental tradeoff between two sensory organs, the eye and the antenna. However, the identification of ecological mechanisms for this observed tradeoff have not been firmly established. Our current study examines several monophyletic species within the obscura group, and asserts that despite their close relatedness and overlapping ecology, they deviate strongly in both visual and olfactory investment. We contend that both courtship and microhabitat preferences support the observed inverse variation in these sensory traits. Here, this variation in visual and olfactory investment seems to provide relaxed competition, a process by which similar species can use a shared environment differently and in ways that help them coexist. Moreover, that behavioral separation according to light gradients occurs first, and subsequently, courtship deviations arise.
The cellular architecture of the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the main hub of the brain reward system, remains only partially characterized. To extend the characterization to inhibitory neurons, we have identified three distinct subtypes of somatostatin (Sst)-expressing neurons in the mouse VTA. These neurons differ in their electrophysiological and morphological properties, anatomical localization, as well as mRNA expression profiles. Importantly, similar to cortical Sst-containing interneurons, most VTA Sst neurons express GABAergic inhibitory markers, but some of them also express glutamatergic excitatory markers and a subpopulation even express dopaminergic markers. Furthermore, only some of the proposed marker genes for cortical Sst neurons were expressed in the VTA Sst neurons. Physiologically, one of the VTA Sst neuron subtypes locally inhibited neighboring dopamine neurons. Overall, our results demonstrate the remarkable complexity and heterogeneity of VTA Sst neurons and suggest that these cells are multifunctional players in the midbrain reward circuitry.