Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

One powerful cell makes or breaks your habits

07.09.2017

Researchers pinpoint the neurons responsible for orchestrating habitual behavior

Some habits are helpful, such as automatically washing your hands before a meal or driving the same route to work every day. They accomplish an important task while freeing up valuable brain space.


A highly magnified view of the striatum of a mouse brain reveals a relatively rare type of cell called the fast-spiking interneuron (purple), which is responsible for orchestrating the brain circuits that control our habits.

Credit: Justin O'Hare, Duke University

But other habits -- like eating a cookie every day after work -- seem to stick around even when the outcomes aren't so good.

Duke University neuroscientists have pinpointed a single type of neuron deep within the brain that serves as a "master controller" of habits.

The team found that habit formation boosts the activity of this influential cell, and that shutting it down with a drug is enough to break habits in sugar-seeking mice. Though rare, this cell exerts its control through a web of connections to more populous cells that are known to drive habitual behavior.

"This cell is a relatively rare cell but one that is very heavily connected to the main neurons that relay the outgoing message for this brain region," said Nicole Calakos, an associate professor of neurology and neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. "We find that this cell is a master controller of habitual behavior, and it appears to do this by re-orchestrating the message sent by the outgoing neurons."

The findings, published Sept. 5 in eLife, may point towards new treatments for addiction or compulsive behavior in humans.

The team got their first glimpse into the neurological underpinnings of habit in a 2016 study that explored how habits can leave enduring marks on the brain. The research was a collaborative effort between Calakos' lab and Henry Yin, an associate professor in Duke's department of psychology and neuroscience.

The team trained otherwise healthy mice to receive a tasty treat every time they pressed a lever. Many mice developed a lever-pressing habit, continuing to press the lever even when it no longer dispensed treats, and despite having had an opportunity to eat all the treats they wanted beforehand.

The team then compared the brain activity of mice who had developed a lever-pressing habit with those who hadn't. They focused on an area deep within the brain called the striatum, which contains two sets of neural pathways: a "go" pathway, which incites an action, and a "stop" pathway, which inhibits action.

They found that both the go and stop pathways were stronger in habit-driven mice. Habit formation also shifted the relative timing of the two pathways, making the go pathway fire before the stop.

In the current study, the team wanted to understand the circuitry that coordinates these various long lasting changes in the brain. They had a hunch that a single type of rare cell in the striatum called the fast-spiking interneuron (FSI) might serve as master conductor of the widespread changes in the outgoing neurons' activity.

The FSI belongs to a class neurons responsible for relaying messages locally between other types of neurons in a particular brain region. Though FSIs make up about only one percent of the cells in the striatum, they grow long branch-like tendrils that link them up to the 95 percent of neurons that trigger the stop and go pathways.

"We were trying to put these pieces of the puzzle into a mechanism," Calakos said. "And we thought because of the way that fast-spiking interneurons are connected up to the other cells, it could be the one cell that is driving these changes in all of them. That is what we set about testing."

To test whether FSIs are truly the conductors of this cellular orchestra when it comes to habit, a graduate student in Calakos' lab, Justin O'Hare led the effort to take a closer look at the brain activity in lever-pressing mice. He found that forming a habit appeared to make the FSIs more excitable. He then gave the mice a drug that decreases the firing of FSIs, and found that the stop and go pathways reverted to their "pre-habit" brain activity patterns, and the habit behavior disappeared.

"Some harmful behaviors like compulsion and addiction in humans might involve corruption of the normally adaptive habit-learning mechanisms." Calakos said, "Understanding the neurological mechanisms underlying our habits may inspire new ways to treat these conditions."

"I firmly believe that to develop new therapies to help people, we need to understand how the brain normally works, and then compare it to what the 'broken' brain looks like," Calakos said.

###

A digital version of this release is available at: https://today.duke.edu/2017/09/one-powerful-cell-makes-or-breaks-your-habits

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NS064577, ARRA supplement to NS064577, AA021075, GM008441-23, NS051156 and DA040701), the McKnight Foundation, The Brain and Behavior Foundation, The Tourette Association of America and the Ruth K. Broad Foundation.

CITATION: "Striatal fast-spiking interneurons selectively modulate circuit output and are required for habitual behavior," Justin K. O'Hare, Haofang Li, Namsoo Kim, Erin Gaidis, Kristen Ade, Jeff Beck, Henry Yin and Nicole Calakos. eLife, Sept. 5, 2017. DOI: # 10.7554/eLife.26231

Media Contact

Kara Manke
kara.manke@duke.edu
919-681-8064

 @DukeU

http://www.duke.edu 

Kara Manke | EurekAlert!

Further reports about: activity brain region humans neurological neurons pathways

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures
17.11.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht High speed video recording precisely measures blood cell velocity
15.11.2017 | ITMO University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>