A role for adaptive developmental plasticity in learning and decision making

From both a medical and educational perspective, there is enormous value to understanding the environmental factors that sculpt learning and decision making. These questions are often approached from proximate levels of analysis, but may be further informed by the adaptive developmental plasticity framework used in evolutionary biology. The basic adaptive developmental plasticity framework posits that biological sensitive periods evolved to use information from the environment to sculpt emerging phenotypes. Here, we lay out how we can apply this framework to learning and decision making in the mammalian brain and propose a working model in which dopamine neurons and their activity may serve to inform downstream circuits about environmental statistics. More widespread use of this evolutionary framework and its associated models can help inform and guide basic research and intervention science.

Wan Chen Lin, Kristen Delevich, Linda Wilbrecht, A role for adaptive developmental plasticity in learning and decision making, 36 Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences pp 48–54 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2020.07.010, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352154620301121

A role for adaptive developmental plasticity in learning and decision making2020-08-24T17:13:48+00:00

Sex and Pubertal Status Influence Dendritic Spine Density on Frontal Corticostriatal Projection Neurons in Mice

In humans, nonhuman primates, and rodents, the frontal cortices exhibit grey matter thinning and dendritic spine pruning that extends into adolescence. This maturation is believed to support higher cognition but may also confer psychiatric vulnerability during adolescence. Currently, little is known about how specific cell types in the frontal cortex mature or whether puberty plays a role in the maturation of some cell types but not others. Here, we used mice to characterize the spatial topography and adolescent development of cross-corticostriatal (cSTR) neurons that project through the corpus collosum to the dorsomedial striatum. We found that apical spine density on cSTR neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex decreased significantly between late juvenile (P29) and young adult time points (P60), with females exhibiting higher spine density than males at both ages. Adult males castrated prior to puberty onset had higher spine density compared to sham controls. Adult females ovariectomized before puberty onset showed greater variance in spine density measures on cSTR cells compared to controls, but their mean spine density did not significantly differ from sham controls. Our findings reveal that these cSTR neurons, a subtype of the broader class of intratelencephalic-type neurons, exhibit significant sex differences and suggest that spine pruning on cSTR neurons is regulated by puberty in male mice.

Kristen Delevich, Nana J Okada, Ameet Rahane, Zicheng Zhang, Christopher D Hall, Linda Wilbrecht, Sex and Pubertal Status Influence Dendritic Spine Density on Frontal Corticostriatal Projection Neurons in MiceCerebral Cortex, , bhz325, https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhz325 (preprint available at https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2019/09/30/787408.full.pdf)

Sex and Pubertal Status Influence Dendritic Spine Density on Frontal Corticostriatal Projection Neurons in Mice2020-02-13T03:35:21+00:00

Distentangling the systems contributing to changes in learning during adolescence

Multiple neurocognitive systems contribute simultaneously to learning. For example, dopamine and basal ganglia (BG) systems are thought to support reinforcement learning (RL) by incrementally updating the value of choices, while the prefrontal cortex (PFC) contributes different computations, such as actively maintaining precise information in working memory (WM). It is commonly thought that WM and PFC show more protracted development than RL and BG systems, yet their contributions are rarely assessed in tandem. Here, we used a simple learning task to test how RL and WM contribute to changes in learning across adolescence. We tested 187 subjects ages 8 to 17 and 53 adults (25-30). Participants learned stimulus-action associations from feedback; the learning load was varied to be within or exceed WM capacity. Participants age 8-12 learned slower than participants age 13-17, and were more sensitive to load. We used computational modeling to estimate subjects’ use of WM and RL processes. Surprisingly, we found more protracted changes in RL than WM during development. RL learning rate increased with age until age 18 and WM parameters showed more subtle, gender- and puberty-dependent changes early in adolescence. These results can inform education and intervention strategies based on the developmental science of learning.

Sarah L. Master, Maria K. Eckstein, Neta Gotlieb, Ronald Dahl, Linda Wilbrecht, Anne G.E. Collins, Distentangling the systems contributing to changes in learning during adolescence, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (2019),
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2019.100732, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878929319303196

Distentangling the systems contributing to changes in learning during adolescence2019-11-20T23:08:54+00:00

Variation in early life maternal care predicts later long range frontal cortex synapse development in mice

Empirical and theoretical work suggests that early postnatal experience may inform later developing synaptic connectivity to adapt the brain to its environment. We hypothesized that early maternal experience may program the development of synaptic density on long range frontal cortex projections. To test this idea, we used maternal separation (MS) to generate environmental variability and examined how MS affected 1) maternal care and 2) synapse density on virally-labeled long range axons of offspring reared in MS or control conditions. We found that MS and variation in maternal care predicted bouton density on dorsal frontal cortex axons that terminated in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and dorsomedial striatum (DMS) with more, fragmented care associated with higher density. The effects of maternal care on these distinct axonal projections of the frontal cortex were manifest at different ages. Maternal care measures were correlated with frontal cortex → BLA bouton density at mid-adolescence postnatal (P) day 35 and frontal cortex → DMS bouton density in adulthood (P85). Meanwhile, we found no evidence that MS or maternal care affected bouton density on ascending orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) or BLA axons that terminated in the dorsal frontal cortices. Our data show that variation in early experience can alter development in a circuit-specific and age-dependent manner that may be relevant to early life adversity.

A. Wren Thomas, Kristen Delevich, Irene Chang, Linda Wilbrecht, Variation in early life maternal care predicts later long range frontal cortex synapse development in mice, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (2009)
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2019.100737, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187892931930324X

Variation in early life maternal care predicts later long range frontal cortex synapse development in mice2019-11-20T23:02:33+00:00

Coming of age in the animal kingdom

Coming of age in the animal kingdom2019-09-27T15:20:08+00:00

Imaging striatal dopamine release using a nongenetically encoded near infrared fluorescent catecholamine nanosensor

Neuromodulation plays a critical role in brain function in both health and disease, and new tools that capture neuromodulation with high spatial and temporal resolution are needed. Here, we introduce a synthetic catecholamine nanosensor with fluorescent emission in the near infrared range (1000–1300 nm), near infrared catecholamine nanosensor (nIRCat). We demonstrate that nIRCats can be used to measure electrically and optogenetically evoked dopamine release in brain tissue, revealing hotspots with a median size of 2 µm. We also demonstrated that nIRCats are compatible with dopamine pharmacology and show D2 autoreceptor modulation of evoked dopamine release, which varied as a function of initial release magnitude at different hotspots. Together, our data demonstrate that nIRCats and other nanosensors of this class can serve as versatile synthetic optical tools to monitor neuromodulatory neurotransmitter release with high spatial resolution.

Abraham G. Beyene, et al., Imaging striatal dopamine release using a nongenetically encoded near infrared fluorescent catecholamine nanosensor, 5(7) Science Advances eaaw3108 (2019)(local PDF).

Imaging striatal dopamine release using a nongenetically encoded near infrared fluorescent catecholamine nanosensor2019-07-17T19:51:56+00:00

Neuroscience: Sex Hormones at Work in the Neocortex

Sex hormones have easy access to the brain and their receptors are expressed by cortical neurons. Until recently, little was known about what impact, if any, they have on cortical processing. New data reveal that estradiol potently alters inhibitory neurotransmission in the neocortex.

Kristen Delevich, David Piekarski, Linda Wilbrecht, Neuroscience: Sex Hormones at Work in the Neocortex,
29(4) Current Biology R122–R125 (2019) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.01.013, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982219300156

Neuroscience: Sex Hormones at Work in the Neocortex2019-02-22T15:49:13+00:00

Adolescence and “Late Blooming” Synapses of the Prefrontal Cortex

The maturation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) during adolescence is thought to be important for cognitive and affective development and mental health risk. Whereas many summaries of adolescent development have focused on dendritic spine pruning and gray matter thinning in the PFC during adolescence, we highlight recent rodent data from our laboratory and others to call attention to continued synapse formation and plasticity in the adolescent period in specific cell types and circuits. In particular, we highlight changes in inhibitory neurotransmission onto intratelencephalic (IT-type) projecting cortical neurons and late expansion of connectivity between the amygdala and PFC and the ventral tegmental area and PFC. Continued work on these “late blooming” synapses in specific cell types and circuits, and their interrelationships, will illuminate new opportunities for understanding and shaping the biology of adolescent development. We also address which aspects of adolescent PFC development are dependent on pubertal processes.

Kristen Delevich, A. Wren Thomas, and Linda E. Wilbrecht, Adolescence and “Late Blooming” Synapses of the Prefrontal Cortex [local pdf], Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol (2019)

Adolescence and “Late Blooming” Synapses of the Prefrontal Cortex2019-02-01T12:32:47+00:00

Mice engineered to mimic a common Val66Met polymorphism in the BDNF gene show greater sensitivity to reversal in environmental contingencies

A common human polymorphism in the gene that encodes brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Val66Met, is considered a marker of vulnerability for mental health issues and has been associated with cognitive impairment. An alternate framework has been proposed in which “risk alleles” are reinterpreted as “plasticity alleles” that confer vulnerability in adverse environments and positive effects in neutral or positive environments (Belsky et al., 2009). These frameworks produce divergent predictions for tests of learning and cognitive flexibility. Here, we examined multiple aspects of learning and cognitive flexibility in a relatively new BDNF Val66Met mouse model (BDNF Val68Met, Warnault et al., 2016), including multiple choice discrimination and reversal, go/no-go learning and reversal, and appetitive extinction learning. We found that mice homozygous for the Met allele show more efficient reversal learning in two different paradigms, but learn at rates comparable to Val homozygotes on the multiple choice discrimination task, a go/no-go task, and in appetitive extinction. Our results dissociate reversal performance from go/no-go learning and appetitive extinction and support the plasticity allele framework that suggests BDNF Met carriers are potentially more sensitive to changes in the environment.

Angela Vandenberg, Wan Chen Lin, Lung-Hao Tai, Dorit Ron, Linda Wilbrecht, Mice engineered to mimic a common Val66Met polymorphism in the BDNF gene show greater sensitivity to reversal in environmental contingencies, 34 Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 34–41 (2018)

Mice engineered to mimic a common Val66Met polymorphism in the BDNF gene show greater sensitivity to reversal in environmental contingencies2019-02-02T21:38:12+00:00

Imaging Striatal Dopamine Release Using a Non-Genetically Encoded Near-Infrared Fluorescent Catecholamine Nanosensor

Neuromodulation plays a critical role in brain function in both health and disease. New optical tools, and their validation in biological tissues, are needed that can image neuromodulation with high spatial and temporal resolution, which will add an important new dimension of information to neuroscience research. Here, we demonstrate the use of a catecholamine nanosensor with fluorescent emission in the 1000-1300 nm near-infrared window to measure dopamine transmission in ex vivo brain slices. These near-infrared catecholamine nanosensors (nIRCats) represent a broader class of nanosensors that can be synthesized from non-covalent conjugation of single wall carbon nanotubes (SWNT) with single strand oligonucleotides. We show that nIRCats can be used to detect catecholamine efflux in brain tissue driven by both electrical stimulation or optogenetic stimulation. Spatial analysis of electrically-evoked signals revealed dynamic regions of interest approximately 2 microns in size in which transients scaled with simulation intensity. Optogenetic stimulation of dopaminergic terminals produced similar transients, whereas optogenetic stimulation of glutamatergic terminals showed no effect on nIRCat signal. Bath application of nomifensine prolonged nIRCat fluorescence signal, consistent with reuptake blockade of dopamine. We further show that the chemically synthetic molecular recognition elements of nIRCats permit measurement of dopamine dynamics in the presence of dopamine receptor agonists and antagonists. These nIRCat nanosensors may be advantageous for future use because i) they do not require virus delivery, gene delivery, or protein expression, ii) their near-infrared fluorescence facilitates imaging in optically scattering brain tissue and is compatible for use in conjunction with other optical neuroscience tool sets, iii) the broad availability of unique near-infrared colors have the potential for simultaneous detection of multiple neurochemical signals, and iv) they are compatible with pharmacology. Together, these data suggest nIRCats and other nanosensors of this class can serve as versatile new optical tools to report dynamics of extracellular neuromodulation in the brain.

Abraham G Beyene, Kristen Delevich, Jackson Travis Del Bonis ODonnell, David J Piekarski, Wan Chen Lin, A Wren Thomas, Sarah J Yang, Polina Kosillo, Darwin Yang, Linda Wilbrecht, Markita P Landry, Imaging Striatal Dopamine Release Using a Non-Genetically Encoded Near-Infrared Fluorescent Catecholamine Nanosensor, biorxiv preprint (2018)

Imaging Striatal Dopamine Release Using a Non-Genetically Encoded Near-Infrared Fluorescent Catecholamine Nanosensor2019-02-02T22:06:38+00:00

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