Nav: Home

Sensory stimuli control dopamine in the brain

January 13, 2017

Regardless of whether we are sitting in a loud aeroplane or walking through a quiet forest clearing, how humans perceive their environment depends on the stimuli. This, in turn, affects our behaviour - sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. In their study of fish larvae, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Driever and his team of neurobiologists at the University of Freiburg have discovered that a group of nerve cells in the forebrain release the neurotransmitter dopamine when activated by tactile or certain visual stimuli. These dopaminergic nerve cells send connections to almost all parts of the brain and spinal cord, thereby affecting the functions of many circuits. These new findings could play a role in the future treatment of such illnesses as restless leg syndrome, a condition in which patients have unpleasant sensations in their limbs during sleep. The researchers have published their research results in the journal Current Biology.

For their research, the scientists studied the four-millimetre-long larvae of zebrafish, which are common aquarium fish. The scientists observed the activity of individual dopaminergic nerve cells within the brains of the larvae, which were alert and active, under a microscope. The researchers were able to make their activity visible using optogenetic calcium sensors, which emit light in active nerve cells. Until now, studies of the dopaminergic nerve cells in vertebrates have primarily focused on the midbrain, where the dopaminergic cells are involved in the control of locomotion and reward behaviour. These become functionally impaired in patients with Parkinson's disease. The dopaminergic neurons of the forebrain, on the other hand, have been little researched until now because they are located deep in the brain and are therefore difficult to reach. In the forebrain, they are also connected to parts of the hypothalamus, which controls the switch in basic behaviour, such as fight or flight and rest or sleep.

The findings of the team of researchers from the University of Freiburg reveal that certain intense sensory stimuli may affect such basic behaviour through the activity of dopaminergic nerve cells. Because there are also connections between these nerve cells and the sensory organs, it is possible that dopaminergic nerve cells are involved in adjusting the sensitivity of sensory organs' reactions to stimuli. This function could be useful for treating diseases. The properties of dopaminergic nerve cells in the forebrain could thus be used in the future to reduce the sensation of patients with restless legs syndrome and hence to supress the tingling in their extremities that occurs when sleeping. Further research of these dopaminergic neurons is expected to help scientists understand how these diseases develop - and in general how humans adapt to quickly changing stimuli and sensations in their environments.
-end-
This research study was a collaboration with BIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies, Cluster of Excellence at the University of Freiburg. Wolfgang Driever is a member of BIOSS and a professor at the Institute of Biology I at the University of Freiburg. Dr. Aristides Arrenberg is a researcher in Driever's lab and a recipient of the post-doc grant Eliteprogramm für Postdoktoranden from the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung.

University of Freiburg

Related Nerve Cells Articles:

How hearing loss can change the way nerve cells are wired
Even short-term blockages in hearing can lead to remarkable changes in the auditory system, altering the behavior and structure of nerve cells that relay information from the ear to the brain, according to a new University at Buffalo study.
Lab-grown nerve cells make heart cells throb
Researchers at Johns Hopkins report that a type of lab-grown human nerve cells can partner with heart muscle cells to stimulate contractions.
Nerve-insulating cells more diverse than previously thought
Oligodendrocytes, a type of brain cell that plays a crucial role in diseases such as multiple sclerosis, are more diverse than have previously been thought, according to a new study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Aggregated protein in nerve cells can cause ALS
Persons with the serious disorder ALS, can have a genetic mutation that causes the protein SOD1 to aggregate in motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
Aggression causes new nerve cells to be generated in the brain
A group of neurobiologists from Russia and the USA, including Dmitry Smagin, Tatyana Michurina, and Grigori Enikolopov from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, have proven experimentally that aggression has an influence on the production of new nerve cells in the brain.
More Nerve Cells News and Nerve Cells Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...