Welcome to Yixin

After completing his Masters degree in the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim, Norway, Yixin Tong joins our Behavioral and Neural Sciences Program at the CMBN and integrates in our lab. 

Our paper on segregated cholinergic transmission in the ventral tegmental area is now published

Dopamine is a neuromodulator that regulates behavior: it is critical for movement and its function has been linked to how the brain processes relevant information that carries the value of a reward. While together these functions are crucial for the expression of goal-directed behavior, it is not clear how are they encoded at the cellular level. One possibility is that dopamine neurons are functionally heterogeneous and receive selective information from brain areas associated with movement and motivational functions.  In this paper we asked what drives the activity of dopamine neurons. Specifically, we looked at the modulation by acetylcholine, a neuromodulator typically associated with attention and learning. Using novel technologies for selectively controlling the activity of cholinergic neurons, we found that acetylcholine provides an activatory signal to dopamine neurons mediated by direct synaptic communication. Notably, the nature of this signal and its effects on dopamine neurons is distinct depending on whether it originates from motor systems or from limbic (motivational) systems. The differential effects on dopamine neurons were observed to elicit distinct behavioral responses and depend on the activation of nicotinic receptors. Our results reveal that motor and motivational signals are conveyed to dopamine neurons by segregated acetylcholine signals and likely act together to produce an integrated behavioral output. Our data thus contribute to identify how the activity of dopamine neurons is regulated, which is key to understand their involvement in a variety of conditions such as Parkinson's disease and addiction.

Welcome to Miguel

Our long-term collaborator Dr Miguel Valencia Ustarroz joins the lab as a Fulbright Fellow. Miguel holds a position at the Center for Applied Medical Research, from the University of Navarra, Spain. He will be designing and implementing methods for sampling large-scale neuronal dynamics in behaving animals.

Welcome to Nadine

Nadine Gut is our newest lab member, she joins our team as a Postdoctoral Associate. She received her PhD from the University of St Andrews, followed by postdoctoral training at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. Nadine is interested in dissecting the functional connectivity of basal ganglia circuits during behavior.

Welcome to Daniel

Daniel Dautan joins the lab as a Postdoctoral Associate after completing his PhD from the University of Leicester. The findings from his thesis derive from experiments carried out in Oxford (neural circuit analysis and electrophysiology) and Leicester (behavior).

Our new paper on the origins of extrinsic cholinergic innervation to the striatum

After our publication in 2014 of the existence of an extrinsic source of acetylcholine to the striatum originated in the brainstem, it raised questions on whether other sources of acetylcholine may have passed unrecognized in the same way. In order to provide a solid and definite answer to these questions, we used conditional tracing in all brain cholinergic cell groups in ChAT::Cre rats and mapped cholinergic axons across the brain. Our results show that brainstem cholinergic axons (pedunculopontine and laterodorsal tegmental nuclei) provide the only extrinsic cholinergic innervation to the dorsal striatum and nucleus accumbens.