Nav: Home

A little inhibition shapes the brain's GPS

April 10, 2017

Researchers from King's College London have discovered a specific class of inhibitory neurons in the cerebral cortex which plays a key role in how the brain encodes spatial information. The findings are published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The cerebral cortex, the brain's outer layer, is responsible for many complex brain functions, such as thought, movement, perception, learning and memory. It is a complex, highly organised, structure, whose function relies on vast networks containing two main groups of nerve cells, or neurons: pyramidal neurons and interneurons. Neurons communicate with each other through chemical and electrical signals that can be excitatory (activating) or inhibitory (deactivating), depending on their class: Pyramidal cells are excitatory neurons whilst interneurons are inhibitory. Importantly, due to their great diversity, interneurons are uniquely placed to orchestrate the activity of neural networks in multiple ways. Understanding the function of specific classes of cortical interneurons is therefore one of the main challenges of contemporary neuroscience. 

Previous studies have shown that a special type of cortical interneurons, called basket cells, exerts a strongly inhibitory effect on brain circuits. However, their specific contribution to the function of cortical circuits has remained elusive. In their new study, the researchers reveal that one of the main classes of basket cells plays a key role in how the brain represents and remembers our environment, called spatial information coding.

The multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology (CDN) at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), and the MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MRC CNDD), found that a particular class of basket cells does not function properly in the absence of a protein called ErbB4, making and receiving fewer connections with other neurons. They also found that the disruption of the connectivity of these cells during brain development causes alterations in brain oscillatory activity and disturbs the function of place cells, a type of pyramidal neuron that becomes active when an animal is located in a particular place in its environment. These developmental defects in the wiring of neural circuits cause very selective alterations in spatial learning and memory in adult mice. Together, these results uncover a novel role for interneurons in the coding of spatial information in mice.

'Our work emphasises the high level of functional specialisation that exist among different classes of neurons in the cerebral cortex. This study also exemplifies how relatively subtle developmental changes in neural circuits have a major impact in function and behaviour in adults', said Professor Oscar Marín, senior co-author of the study and Director of the MRC CNDD and the CDN at King's College London.

The present study builds on previous work by the laboratories of Professor Beatriz Rico and Professor Oscar Marín on the role of the disease susceptibility gene ErbB4 in the development of neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex. In recent years, their work has led to the realisation that cortical inhibitory circuitry is directly involved in cognitive function, and that developmental disruption of the function of cortical interneurons might be linked to the pathophysiology of developmental disorders such as schizophrenia.?

Professor Beatriz Rico, senior co-author of the study from the MRC CNDD and the CDN, said: 'Step by step we are building knowledge on how cortical interneurons orchestrate the function of cortical networks. We know that the hippocampus is the brain area where precise maps of spatial information are established. In this study, we have discovered that a subpopulation of inhibitory neurons is essential to maintain the shape and the stability of these maps. Without the proper wiring of these interneurons, the spatial information changes from precise to diffuse and from stable to unstable.'

King's College London

Related Neurons Articles:

How do we get so many different types of neurons in our brain?
SMU (Southern Methodist University) researchers have discovered another layer of complexity in gene expression, which could help explain how we're able to have so many billions of neurons in our brain.
These neurons affect how much you do, or don't, want to eat
University of Arizona researchers have identified a network of neurons that coordinate with other brain regions to influence eating behaviors.
Mood neurons mature during adolescence
Researchers have discovered a mysterious group of neurons in the amygdala -- a key center for emotional processing in the brain -- that stay in an immature, prenatal developmental state throughout childhood.
Astrocytes protect neurons from toxic buildup
Neurons off-load toxic by-products to astrocytes, which process and recycle them.
Connecting neurons in the brain
Leuven researchers uncover new mechanisms of brain development that determine when, where and how strongly distinct brain cells interconnect.
The salt-craving neurons
Pass the potato chips, please! New research discovers neural circuits that regulate craving and satiation for salty tastes.
When neurons are out of shape, antidepressants may not work
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD.
Losing neurons can sometimes not be that bad
Current thinking about Alzheimer's disease is that neuronal cell death in the brain is to blame for the cognitive havoc caused by the disease.
Neurons that fire together, don't always wire together
As the adage goes 'neurons that fire together, wire together,' but a new paper published today in Neuron demonstrates that, in addition to response similarity, projection target also constrains local connectivity.
Scientists accidentally reprogram mature mouse GABA neurons into dopaminergic-like neurons
Attempting to make dopamine-producing neurons out of glial cells in mouse brains, a group of researchers instead converted mature inhibitory neurons into dopaminergic cells.
More Neurons News and Neurons 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

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.