A team of researchers at the University of Zurich has revealed the neurons in the brain that guide adaptive behavior. Their new study that utilized a mouse model to find these neurons, contributes to our understanding of decision-making processes.
The paper outlining this study recently appeared Nature journal. The lead author of the paper is Abhishek Banerjee, an associate professor at the University of Newcastle.
“The plasticity of the brain forms the foundation of this ability,” says Fritjof Helmchen, the co-director of the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich, who also heads the Neuroscience Center Zurich. “But the biological processes that enable this amazing feat are still poorly understood.”
The team has taken a step towards understanding these amazing biological processes. There study demonstrates that the orbitofrontal cortex, a region of the cerebral cortex that sits behind the eyes, is capable of reprogramming neurons located in sensory areas.
The team basically performed an experiment with rats wherein they simulated a relearning process under controlled conditions and observed the activity of brain at the level of individual neurons.
The researchers used molecular biological and imaging techniques to analyze the function of individual neurons in the brain cortices involved.
The analysis and the results showed that a group of brain cells in the orbitofrontal cortex are active during the relearning process.
These cells in orbitofrontal cortex have long axons that extend into the sensory area in mice that processes tactile stimuli. The cells in this area followed the old activity pattern at first but eventually some of them then adapted to the new situation.
When these active neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex were wantedly inactivated, relearning process was impaired.
“We were thus able to demonstrate that a direct connection from the orbitofrontal cortex to sensory areas of the brain exists and that some neurons get remapped there,” explains Helmchen. “The plasticity of those cells and the instructions they receive from the higher-order orbitofrontal cortex appear to be crucial to behavioral flexibility and our ability to adapt to new situations.”
“It has long been known that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in decision-making processes.” It is in charge, to a certain degree, of enabling us to react appropriately and successfully to exogenous circumstances. “But the neural circuits underlying this function were unknown until now,” says Abhishek Banerjee. “This mode of communication and control across distant areas of the brain is truly remarkable.”
The researchers believe that this process which they observed in mice is the same in humans as well. The study have deepend our understanding of complex brain proceedures according to researchers. They hope that this can help us in understanding various forms of autism and schizophrenia wherein flexibility of decision making is impaired.
Abhishek Banerjee, Giuseppe Parente, Jasper Teutsch, Christopher Lewis, Fabian F. Voigt, Fritjof Helmchen. Value-guided remapping of sensory cortex by lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Nature, 2020; 585 (7824): 245 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2704-z
Press Release: University of Zurich