Bachelor of Arts, Columbia University (2004)
Doctor of Philosophy, University of California San Francisco (2013)
Robert Malenka, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Situations in which rewards are unexpectedly obtained or withheld represent opportunities for new learning. Often, this learning includes identifying cues that predict reward availability. Unexpected rewards strongly activate midbrain dopamine neurons. This phasic signal is proposed to support learning about antecedent cues by signaling discrepancies between actual and expected outcomes, termed a reward prediction error. However, it is unknown whether dopamine neuron prediction error signaling and cue-reward learning are causally linked. To test this hypothesis, we manipulated dopamine neuron activity in rats in two behavioral procedures, associative blocking and extinction, that illustrate the essential function of prediction errors in learning. We observed that optogenetic activation of dopamine neurons concurrent with reward delivery, mimicking a prediction error, was sufficient to cause long-lasting increases in cue-elicited reward-seeking behavior. Our findings establish a causal role for temporally precise dopamine neuron signaling in cue-reward learning, bridging a critical gap between experimental evidence and influential theoretical frameworks.
View details for DOI 10.1038/nn.3413
View details for Web of Science ID 000321180900032
View details for PubMedID 23708143
Dopamine (DA) is known to play essential roles in neural function and behavior. Accordingly, DA neurons have been the focus of intense experimental investigation that has led to many important advances in our understanding of how DA influences these processes. However, it is becoming increasingly appreciated that delineating the precise contributions of DA neurons to cellular, circuit, and systems-level phenomena will require more sophisticated control over their patterns of activity than conventional techniques can provide. Specifically, the roles played by DA neurons are likely to depend on their afferent and efferent connectivity, the timing and length of their neural activation, and the nature of the behavior under investigation. Recently developed optogenetic tools hold great promise for disentangling these complex issues. Here we discuss the use of light-sensitive microbial opsins in the context of outstanding questions in DA research. A major technical advance offered by these proteins is the ability to bidirectionally modulate DA neuron activity in in vitro and in vivo preparations on a time scale that more closely approximates those of neural, perceptual and behavioral events. In addition, continued advances in rodent genetics and viral-mediated gene delivery have contributed to the ability to selectively target DA neurons or their individual afferent and efferent connections. Further, these tools are suitable for use in experimental subjects engaged in complex behaviors. After reviewing the strengths and limitations of optogenetic methodologies, we conclude by describing early efforts in the application of this valuable new approach that demonstrate its potential to improve our understanding of the neural and behavioral functions of DA. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Optogenetics (7th BRES).
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.09.036
View details for Web of Science ID 000320087000005
View details for PubMedID 23031636
Currently there is no general approach for achieving specific optogenetic control of genetically defined cell types in rats, which provide a powerful experimental system for numerous established neurophysiological and behavioral paradigms. To overcome this challenge we have generated genetically restricted recombinase-driver rat lines suitable for driving gene expression in specific cell types, expressing Cre recombinase under the control of large genomic regulatory regions (200-300 kb). Multiple tyrosine hydroxylase (Th)::Cre and choline acetyltransferase (Chat)::Cre lines were produced that exhibited specific opsin expression in targeted cell types. We additionally developed methods for utilizing optogenetic tools in freely moving rats and leveraged these technologies to clarify the causal relationship between dopamine (DA) neuron firing and positive reinforcement, observing that optical stimulation of DA neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of Th::Cre rats is sufficient to support vigorous intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS). These studies complement existing targeting approaches by extending the generalizability of optogenetics to traditionally non-genetically-tractable but vital animal models.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.028
View details for Web of Science ID 000297971100008
View details for PubMedID 22153370
The primary sensory cortex is positioned at a confluence of bottom-up dedicated sensory inputs and top-down inputs related to higher-order sensory features, attentional state, and behavioral reinforcement. We tested whether topographic map plasticity in the adult primary auditory cortex and a secondary auditory area, the suprarhinal auditory field, was controlled by the statistics of bottom-up sensory inputs or by top-down task-dependent influences. Rats were trained to attend to independent parameters, either frequency or intensity, within an identical set of auditory stimuli, allowing us to vary task demands while holding the bottom-up sensory inputs constant. We observed a clear double-dissociation in map plasticity in both cortical fields. Rats trained to attend to frequency cues exhibited an expanded representation of the target frequency range within the tonotopic map but no change in sound intensity encoding compared with controls. Rats trained to attend to intensity cues expressed an increased proportion of nonmonotonic intensity response profiles preferentially tuned to the target intensity range but no change in tonotopic map organization relative to controls. The degree of topographic map plasticity within the task-relevant stimulus dimension was correlated with the degree of perceptual learning for rats in both tasks. These data suggest that enduring receptive field plasticity in the adult auditory cortex may be shaped by task-specific top-down inputs that interact with bottom-up sensory inputs and reinforcement-based neuromodulator release. Top-down inputs might confer the selectivity necessary to modify a single feature representation without affecting other spatially organized feature representations embedded within the same neural circuitry.
View details for DOI 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3771-05.2006
View details for Web of Science ID 000237271700030
View details for PubMedID 16672673