Bachelor of Arts, Columbia University (2004)
Doctor of Philosophy, University of California San Francisco (2013)
Robert Malenka, Postdoctoral Faculty Sponsor
Dopamine (DA) neurons in the midbrain ventral tegmental area (VTA) integrate complex inputs to encode multiple signals that influence motivated behaviors via diverse projections. Here, we combine axon-initiated viral transduction with rabies-mediated trans-synaptic tracing and Cre-based cell-type-specific targeting to systematically map input-output relationships of VTA-DA neurons. We found that VTA-DA (and VTA-GABA) neurons receive excitatory, inhibitory, and modulatory input from diverse sources. VTA-DA neurons projecting to different forebrain regions exhibit specific biases in their input selection. VTA-DA neurons projecting to lateral and medial nucleus accumbens innervate largely non-overlapping striatal targets, with the latter also sending extensive extra-striatal axon collaterals. Using electrophysiology and behavior, we validated new circuits identified in our tracing studies, including a previously unappreciated top-down reinforcing circuit from anterior cortex to lateral nucleus accumbens via VTA-DA neurons. This study highlights the utility of our viral-genetic tracing strategies to elucidate the complex neural substrates that underlie motivated behaviors.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2015.07.015
View details for PubMedID 26232228
The brain's remarkable capacity to generate cognition and behavior is mediated by an extraordinarily complex set of neural interactions that remain largely mysterious. This complexity poses a significant challenge in developing therapeutic interventions to ameliorate psychiatric disease. Accordingly, few new classes of drugs have been made available for patients with mental illness since the 1950s. Optogenetics offers the ability to selectively manipulate individual neural circuit elements that underlie disease-relevant behaviors and is currently accelerating the pace of preclinical research into neurobiological mechanisms of disease. In this review, we highlight recent findings from studies that employ optogenetic approaches to gain insight into normal and aberrant brain function relevant to mental illness. Emerging data from these efforts offers an exquisitely detailed picture of disease-relevant neural circuits in action, and hints at the potential of optogenetics to open up entirely new avenues in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.004
View details for Web of Science ID 000348337600002
Ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons have been implicated in reward, aversion, salience, cognition, and several neuropsychiatric disorders. Optogenetic approaches involving transgenic Cre-driver mouse lines provide powerful tools for dissecting DA-specific functions. However, the emerging complexity of VTA circuits requires Cre-driver mouse lines that restrict transgene expression to a precisely defined cell population. Because of recent work reporting that VTA DA neurons projecting to the lateral habenula release GABA, but not DA, we performed an extensive anatomical, molecular, and functional characterization of prominent DA transgenic mouse driver lines. We find that transgenes under control of the tyrosine hydroxylase, but not the dopamine transporter, promoter exhibit dramatic non-DA cell-specific expression patterns within and around VTA nuclei. Our results demonstrate how Cre expression in unintentionally targeted cells in transgenic mouse lines can confound the interpretation of supposedly cell-type-specific experiments. This Matters Arising paper is in response to Stamatakis et al. (2013), published in Neuron. See also the Matters Arising Response paper by Stuber et al. (2015), published concurrently with this Matters Arising in Neuron.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.12.036
View details for PubMedID 25611513
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