Pubmed: Wilbrecht L

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 […]

August 24th, 2020|

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

November 20th, 2019|Tags: , , , |

Coming of age in the animal kingdom

September 27th, 2019|Tags: |

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 […]

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),

February 22nd, 2019|Tags: , , |

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 […]

February 1st, 2019|Tags: , , |

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), […]

December 1st, 2018|Tags: , , , , |

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. […]

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