Faculty Forum: Characterizing Effects of Inequality on Brain Development & Strengthening Resilience against Adversity
UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Research is holding a faculty forum on Characterizing Effects of Inequality on Brain Development & Strengthening Resilience against Adversity on Tuesday, October 4th at the Faculty Club. The event is convened by Linda Wilbrecht, Silvia Bunge, Daniela Kaufer, Julianna Deardorff, and Lance Kriegsfeld .
On Monday, October 3rd, Linda Wilbrecht will join Tom Stoppard and Carey Perloff in conversation at the ACT Theater.
Monday, October 3, 7 p.m.
A.C.T.’s Geary Theater
Tony, Academy, and Olivier Award winner Tom Stoppard will join A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff “In Conversation” at The Geary Theater where they will discuss their decades-long collaboration and why Stoppard has long referred to A.C.T. as his “American home.” They will be joined on stage by neuroscientist Linda Wilbrecht from the University of California, Berkeley.
Lung-Hao Tai’s collaborative work with the Bo Li lab was recently published as: Marcus Stephenson-Jones, Kai Yu, Sandra Ahrens, Jason M. Tucciarone, Aile N. van Huijstee, Luis A. Mejia, Mario A. Penzo, Lung-Hao Tai, Linda Wilbrecht, Bo Li, A basal ganglia circuit for evaluating action outcomes, Nature, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature19845 (2016).
David Piekarski was recently granted the New Investigator Award at the 2016 Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (SBN) meeting in Montreal.
My colleague Professor Alison Gopnik discusses the Wilbrecht Lab’s work in the Wall Street Journal this week. Gopnik’s article covers two experiments from the Lab–our 2011 paper on juvenile mice and reversal learning, and our 2015 maternal separation and flexibility paper.
Young Mice, Like Children, Can Grow Up Too Fast
Is it good to grow up? We often act as if children should develop into adults as quickly as possible. More and more we urge our children to race to the next level, leap over the next hurdle, make it to the next grade as fast as they can. But new brain studies suggest that it may not be good to grow up so fast. The neuroscientist Linda Wilbrecht at my own school, the University of California, Berkeley, and her collaborators recently reported that early stress makes babies, at least baby mice, grow up too soon.
Christopher Bergland, How Does Your Brain Learn Through Trial and Error? Problem-solving and critical thinking can rewire the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), Psychology Today, Mar. 6, 2016.
In a groundbreaking discovery, neurocientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have captured brain images of active learning in real-time by photographing the brains of mice as they learn how-to problem solve through trial and error.
Yasmin Anwar, Scientists tap the smarts of mice, capture problem-solving in action, UC Berkeley Press Release, March 7, 2016.
The Wilbrecht Lab’s recent paper appearing in Neuropharmacology, Brief cognitive training interventions in young adulthood promote long-term resilience to drug-seeking behavior, has attracted some news attention:
- Addiction Isn’t Hardwired: Intellectual Pursuits May Buffer Brain Against Addiction, Science 2.0, July 23, 2015.
- Kayla Kettmann, UC Berkeley researchers find connection between lack of mental stimulation, addiction, The Daily Californian, July 22, 2015.
- KCBS covered the paper. Here is the audio in OGG and MP3.
- New study finds that intellectual pursuits can buffer the brain’s reward system against drug dependence, News Medical, July 15, 2015.
- Anastasia Subervi, Estudio: Actividades intelectuales pueden desviar las adicciones, UPI Espanol, July 15, 2015.
- Matthieu Delacharlery, Stimuler le cerveau permet de réduire la tentation aux drogues, MetroNews, July 15, 2015.
- Ali Venosa, Addiction Solitaire: Increasing Cognitive Stimulation May Reduce Drug-Seeking Behavior, Medical Daily, July 15, 2015.
- Un entorno estimulante ayuda a abandonar las adicciones,Tendencias De La Salud, July 15, 2015.
- Intellectual pursuits may buffer the brain against addiction, ScienceBlog, July 14, 2015.
- Yasmin Anwar, Intellectual pursuits may buffer the brain against addiction, UC Berkeley News, July 13, 2015 (press release, also pasted below).
Challenging the idea that addiction is hardwired in the brain, a new UC Berkeley study of mice suggests that even a short time spent in a stimulating learning environment can rewire the brain’s reward system and buffer it against drug dependence.
Scientists tracked cocaine cravings in more than 70 adult male mice and found that those rodents whose daily drill included exploration, learning and finding hidden tasty morsels were less likely than their enrichment-deprived counterparts to seek solace in a chamber where they had been given cocaine.
“We have compelling behavioral evidence that self-directed exploration and learning altered their reward systems so that when cocaine was experienced it made less of an impact on their brain,” said Linda Wilbrecht, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and senior author of the paper just published in the journal, Neuropharmacology.
By contrast, mice who were not intellectually challenged and/or whose activities and diets were restricted, were eager to return to the quarters where they had been injected with cocaine for weeks on end.
“We know that mice living in deprived conditions show higher levels of drug-seeking behavior than those living in stimulating environments, and we sought to develop a brief intervention that would promote resilience in the deprived animals,” said study lead author Josiah Boivin, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at UC San Francisco who conducted the research at UC Berkeley as part of his thesis work.
Drug abuse and addiction rank among the world’s more costly, destructive and seemingly insurmountable problems. Previous studies have found that poverty, trauma, mental illness and other environmental and physiological stressors can alter the brain’s reward circuitry and make us more susceptible to substance abuse.
The good news about this latest study is that it offers scalable interventions against drug-seeking behaviors, albeit through evidence based on animal behavior.
“Our data are exciting because they suggest that positive learning experiences, through education or play in a structured environment, could sculpt and develop brain circuits to build resilience in at-risk individuals, and that even brief cognitive interventions may be somewhat protective and last a relatively long time,” Wilbrecht said.
Intellectually challenged mice vs. deprived mice
Researchers compared the lure of drugs, specifically cocaine, in three sets of mice: The test or “trained” mice were put through a nine-day cognitive training program based on exploration, incentives and rewards while their “yoked-to-trained” counterparts received rewards but no challenges. The “standard-housed” mice stayed in their home cages with restricted diets and activities.
For a few hours each day, the trained mice and yoked-to-trained mice were set loose in adjacent chambers. The trained mice were free to explore and engage in enrichment activities, which included digging up Honey Nut Cheerios in a pot of scented wood shavings. The exercise kept them on their toes because the rules for how to find the treats would change on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, their yoked-to-trained counterparts received a Honey Nut Cheerio each time their trained partner hit the jackpot, but did not have to work for it. As for the standard-housed mice, they remained in their cages without enrichment opportunities or Honey Nut Cheerios. After the cognitive training phase of the experiment, all three sets of mice remained in their cages for a month.
Cocaine conditioning tests desire for drugs
Next, the mice were set loose, one by one, to explore two adjoining chambers in a plexiglass box, which differed from one another in smell, texture and pattern. The researchers recorded which chamber each mouse preferred and then set about changing their preference by giving them cocaine in the chamber that they had repeatedly not favored.
For the drug seeking test, the mice received mock injections, and were freed to explore both chambers for 20 minutes, using the open doorway to scamper back and forth. At first, all the mice overwhelmingly returned to the chamber where they had presumably enjoyed the cocaine. But in subsequent weekly drug seeking tests, the mice who had received cognitive training showed less preference for the chamber where they had been high on cocaine. And that pattern continued.
“Overall, the data suggest that deprivation may confer vulnerability to drug seeking behavior and that brief interventions may promote long-term resilience,” Wilbrecht said.
Denise Piscopo, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon and former member of Wilbrecht’s lab, is the third co-author on the paper.
Thanks to her committee Drs. Yi Zuo, Michael Stryker, Patricia Janak and Kevin Bender!
Alexandra Loucks successfully defended her Ph.D. thesis!
A paper by Professor Wilbrecht and her colleagues, Francisco Javier Muñoz-Cuevas, Jegath Athilingam, and Denise Piscopo, is discussed in today’s Wall Street Journal by Professor Alison Gopnik.
Citation: Alison Gopnik, Drugged-Out Mice and the Growing Brain, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 4, 2013, page C2.
Related: Francisco Javier Muñoz-Cuevas, Jegath Athilingam, Denise Piscopo, Linda Wilbrecht, Cocaine-induced structural plasticity in frontal cortex correlates with conditioned place preference, Nature Neuroscience (2013) doi:10.1038/nn.3498