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.
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Perceptual decisions about sensory input are influenced by fluctuations in ongoing neural activity, most prominently driven by attention and neuromodulator systems. It is currently unknown if neuromodulator activity and attention differentially modulate perceptual decision-making and/or whether neuromodulatory systems in fact control attentional processes. To investigate the effects of two distinct neuromodulatory systems and spatial attention on perceptual decisions, we pharmacologically elevated cholinergic (through donepezil) and catecholaminergic (through atomoxetine) levels in humans performing a visuo-spatial attention task, while we measured electroencephalography (EEG). Both attention and catecholaminergic enhancement improved decision-making at the behavioral and algorithmic level, as reflected in increased perceptual sensitivity and the modulation of the drift rate parameter derived from drift diffusion modeling. Univariate analyses of EEG data time-locked to the attentional cue, the target stimulus, and the motor response further revealed that attention and catecholaminergic enhancement both modulated pre-stimulus cortical excitability, cue- and stimulus-evoked sensory activity, as well as parietal evidence accumulation signals. Interestingly, we observed both similar, unique, and interactive effects of attention and catecholaminergic neuromodulation on these behavioral, algorithmic, and neural markers of the decision-making process. Thereby, this study reveals an intricate relationship between attentional and catecholaminergic systems and advances our understanding about how these systems jointly shape various stages of perceptual decision-making.
The relationship between obesity and human brain structure is incompletely understood. Using diffusion-weighted MRI from ∼30,000 UK Biobank participants, we test the hypothesis that obesity (waist-to-hip ratio, WHR) is associated with regional differences in two micro-structural MRI metrics: isotropic volume fraction (ISOVF), an index of free water, and intra-cellular volume fraction (ICVF), an index of neurite density. We observed significant associations with obesity in two coupled but distinct brain systems: a prefrontal/temporal/striatal system associated with ISOVF and a medial temporal/occipital/striatal system associated with ICVF. The ISOVF~WHR system colocated with expression of genes enriched for innate immune functions, decreased glial density, and high mu opioid (MOR) and other neurotransmitter receptor density. Conversely, the ICVF~WHR system co-located with expression of genes enriched for G-protein coupled receptors and decreased density of MOR and other receptors. To test whether these distinct brain phenotypes might differ in terms of their underlying shared genetics or relationship to maps of the inflammatory marker C-reactive Protein (CRP), we estimated the genetic correlations between WHR and ISOVF (rg = 0.026, P = 0.36) and ICVF (rg = 0.112, P < 9×10−4) as well as comparing correlations between WHR maps and equivalent CRP maps for ISOVF and ICVF (P<0.05). These correlational results are consistent with a two-way mechanistic model whereby genetically determined differences in neurite density in the medial temporal system may contribute to obesity, whereas water content in the prefrontal system could reflect a consequence of obesity mediated by innate immune system activation.