Neural systems use homeostatic plasticity to maintain normal brain functions and to prevent abnormal activity. Surprisingly, homeostatic mechanisms that regulate circuit output have mainly been demonstrated during artificial and/or pathological perturbations. Natural, physiological scenarios that activate these stabilizing mechanisms in neural networks of mature animals remain elusive. To establish the extent to which a naturally inactive circuit engages mechanisms of homeostatic plasticity, we utilized the respiratory motor circuit in bullfrogs that normally remains inactive for several months during the winter. We found that inactive respiratory motoneurons exhibit a classic form of homeostatic plasticity, up-scaling of AMPA-glutamate receptors. Up-scaling increased the synaptic strength of respiratory motoneurons and acted to boost motor amplitude from the respiratory network following months of inactivity. Our results show that synaptic scaling sustains strength of the respiratory motor output following months of inactivity, thereby supporting a major neuroscience hypothesis in a normal context for an adult animal.
- Joseph M Santin
- Joseph M Santin
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.
Animal experimentation: Experiments were approved by the Wright State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (protocol number 1047).
- Yukiko Goda, RIKEN, Japan
© 2017, Santin 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.
The automatic initiation of actions can be highly functional. But occasionally these actions cannot be withheld and are released at inappropriate times, impulsively. Striatal activity has been shown to participate in the timing of action sequence initiation and it has been linked to impulsivity. Using a self-initiated task, we trained adult male rats to withhold a rewarded action sequence until a waiting time interval has elapsed. By analyzing neuronal activity we show that the striatal response preceding the initiation of the learned sequence is strongly modulated by the time subjects wait before eliciting the sequence. Interestingly, the modulation is steeper in adolescent rats, which show a strong prevalence of impulsive responses compared to adults. We hypothesize this anticipatory striatal activity reflects the animals’ subjective reward expectation, based on the elapsed waiting time, while the steeper waiting modulation in adolescence reflects age-related differences in temporal discounting, internal urgency states, or explore–exploit balance.
How dynamic interactions between nervous system regions in mammals performs online motor control remains an unsolved problem. In this paper, we show that feedback control is a simple, yet powerful way to understand the neural dynamics of sensorimotor control. We make our case using a minimal model comprising spinal cord, sensory and motor cortex, coupled by long connections that are plastic. It succeeds in learning how to perform reaching movements of a planar arm with 6 muscles in several directions from scratch. The model satisfies biological plausibility constraints, like neural implementation, transmission delays, local synaptic learning and continuous online learning. Using differential Hebbian plasticity the model can go from motor babbling to reaching arbitrary targets in less than 10 min of in silico time. Moreover, independently of the learning mechanism, properly configured feedback control has many emergent properties: neural populations in motor cortex show directional tuning and oscillatory dynamics, the spinal cord creates convergent force fields that add linearly, and movements are ataxic (as in a motor system without a cerebellum).