Locus Coeruleus tracking of prediction errors optimises cognitive flexibility: An Active Inference model.
ABSTRACT: The locus coeruleus (LC) in the pons is the major source of noradrenaline (NA) in the brain. Two modes of LC firing have been associated with distinct cognitive states: changes in tonic rates of firing are correlated with global levels of arousal and behavioural flexibility, whilst phasic LC responses are evoked by salient stimuli. Here, we unify these two modes of firing by modelling the response of the LC as a correlate of a prediction error when inferring states for action planning under Active Inference (AI). We simulate a classic Go/No-go reward learning task and a three-arm 'explore/exploit' task and show that, if LC activity is considered to reflect the magnitude of high level 'state-action' prediction errors, then both tonic and phasic modes of firing are emergent features of belief updating. We also demonstrate that when contingencies change, AI agents can update their internal models more quickly by feeding back this state-action prediction error-reflected in LC firing and noradrenaline release-to optimise learning rate, enabling large adjustments over short timescales. We propose that such prediction errors are mediated by cortico-LC connections, whilst ascending input from LC to cortex modulates belief updating in anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). In short, we characterise the LC/ NA system within a general theory of brain function. In doing so, we show that contrasting, behaviour-dependent firing patterns are an emergent property of the LC that translates state-action prediction errors into an optimal balance between plasticity and stability.
Project description:Thalamic relay neurons have well-characterized dual firing modes: bursting and tonic spiking. Studies in brain slices have led to a model in which rhythmic synchronized spiking (phasic firing) in a population of relay neurons leads to hyper-synchronous oscillatory cortico-thalamo-cortical rhythms that result in absence seizures. This model suggests that blocking thalamocortical phasic firing would treat absence seizures. However, recent in vivo studies in anesthetized animals have questioned this simple model. Here we resolve this issue by developing a real-time, mode-switching approach to drive thalamocortical neurons into or out of a phasic firing mode in two freely behaving genetic rodent models of absence epilepsy. Toggling between phasic and tonic firing in thalamocortical neurons launched and aborted absence seizures, respectively. Thus, a synchronous thalamocortical phasic firing state is required for absence seizures, and switching to tonic firing rapidly halts absences. This approach should be useful for modulating other networks that have mode-dependent behaviors.
Project description:Dopamine cell firing can encode errors in reward prediction, providing a learning signal to guide future behavior. Yet dopamine is also a key modulator of motivation, invigorating current behavior. Existing theories propose that fast (phasic) dopamine fluctuations support learning, whereas much slower (tonic) dopamine changes are involved in motivation. We examined dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens across multiple time scales, using complementary microdialysis and voltammetric methods during adaptive decision-making. We found that minute-by-minute dopamine levels covaried with reward rate and motivational vigor. Second-by-second dopamine release encoded an estimate of temporally discounted future reward (a value function). Changing dopamine immediately altered willingness to work and reinforced preceding action choices by encoding temporal-difference reward prediction errors. Our results indicate that dopamine conveys a single, rapidly evolving decision variable, the available reward for investment of effort, which is employed for both learning and motivational functions.
Project description:Neurons of the nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) discharge with phasic bursts of activity superimposed on highly regular tonic discharge rates. Phasic bursts are elicited by bottom-up input mechanisms involving novel/salient sensory stimuli and top-down decision making processes; whereas tonic rates largely fluctuate according to arousal levels and behavioral states. Although it is generally believed that these two modes of activity differentially modulate information processing in LC targets, the unique role of phasic versus tonic LC output on signal processing in cells, circuits, and neural networks of waking animals is not well understood. In the current study, simultaneous recordings of individual neurons within ventral posterior medial thalamus and barrel field cortex of conscious rats provided evidence that each mode of LC output produces a unique modulatory impact on single neuron responsiveness to sensory-driven synaptic input and representations of sensory information across ensembles of simultaneously recorded cells. Each mode of LC activation specifically modulated the relationship between sensory-stimulus intensity and the subsequent responses of individual neurons and neural ensembles. Overall these results indicate that phasic versus tonic modes of LC discharge exert fundamentally different modulatory effects on target neuronal circuits within the rodent trigeminal somatosensory system. As such, each mode of LC output may differentially influence signal processing as a means of optimizing behaviorally relevant neural computations within this sensory network. Likely the ability of the LC system to differentially regulate neural responses and local circuit operations according to behavioral demands extends to other brain regions including those involved in higher cognitive functions.
Project description:Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons fire in 2 characteristic modes, tonic and phasic, which are thought to modulate distinct aspects of behavior. However, the inability to selectively disrupt these patterns of activity has hampered the precise definition of the function of these modes of signaling. Here, we addressed the role of phasic DA in learning and other DA-dependent behaviors by attenuating DA neuron burst firing and subsequent DA release, without altering tonic neural activity. Disruption of phasic DA was achieved by selective genetic inactivation of NMDA-type, ionotropic glutamate receptors in DA neurons. Disruption of phasic DA neuron activity impaired the acquisition of numerous conditioned behavioral responses, and dramatically attenuated learning about cues that predicted rewarding and aversive events while leaving many other DA-dependent behaviors unaffected.
Project description:Ventral pallidal (VP) neurons exhibit rapid phasic firing patterns within seconds of cocaine-reinforced responses. The present investigation examined whether VP neurons exhibited firing rate changes: (1) over minutes during the inter-infusion interval (slow phasic patterns) and/or (2) over the course of the several-hour self-administration session (tonic firing patterns) relative to pre-session firing. Approximately three-quarters (43/54) of VP neurons exhibited slow phasic firing patterns. The most common pattern was a post-infusion decrease in firing followed by a progressive reversal of firing over minutes (51.16%; 22/43). Early reversals were predominantly observed anteriorly whereas progressive and late reversals were observed more posteriorly. Approximately half (51.85%; 28/54) of the neurons exhibited tonic firing patterns consisting of at least a two-fold change in firing. Most cells decreased firing during drug loading, remained low over self-administration maintenance, and reversed following lever removal. Over a whole experiment (tonic) timescale, the majority of neurons exhibited an inverse relationship between calculated drug level and firing rates during loading and post-self-administration behaviors. Fewer neurons exhibited an inverse relationship of calculated drug level and tonic firing rate during self-administration maintenance but, among those that did, nearly all were progressive reversal neurons. The present results show that, similar to its main afferent the nucleus accumbens, VP exhibits both slow phasic and tonic firing patterns during cocaine self-administration. Given that VP neurons are principally GABAergic, the predominant slow phasic decrease and tonic decrease firing patterns within the VP may indicate a disinhibitory influence upon its thalamocortical, mesolimbic, and nigrostriatal targets during cocaine self-administration.
Project description:The dorsal striatum and the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell of the ventral striatum have similar cellular components and are both richly innervated by dopamine neurons. Despite similarities that extend throughout the striatum, only the NAc shell has a conspicuous increase in basal dopamine upon the initial administration of psychostimulant drugs such as nicotine. As measured by microdialysis, the elevated dopamine in the NAc shell is considered an identifying functional characteristic of addictive drugs. To examine this general functional difference between nicotine's action on the dorsolateral striatum and NAc shell, we directly monitored dopamine release in rat striatal slices using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. In addition, we separately monitored the in vivo unit firing activity of putative midbrain dopamine neurons from freely moving rats using chronic multiple tetrodes. Nicotine administration increased the firing frequency of dopamine neurons and specifically increased the number and the length of phasic burst firing. The frequency dependence for dopamine release in the dorsolateral striatum and NAc shell is fundamentally different, enabling mainly the NAc shell to capitalize on the nicotine-induced phasic burst firing by dopamine neurons. Although nicotine decreased low-frequency (tonic) dopamine release in both areas, the increased ratio of phasic bursts relative to tonic firing caused by nicotine boosted the basal dopamine concentration predominantly in the NAc shell. By favoring release from bursts while depressing release from tonic signals, nicotine spreads the range of dopamine signaling and effectively increases the signal-to-noise relationship along dopamine afferents.
Project description:The neurosteroid allopregnanolone (ALLO) causes unconsciousness by allosteric modulation of ?-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors, but its actions on the spinal motor networks are unknown. We are therefore testing the hypothesis that ALLO attenuates the action potential firing of spinal interneurons and motoneurons predominantly via enhancing tonic, but not synaptic GABAergic inhibition. We used video microscopy to assess motoneuron-evoked muscle activity in organotypic slice cultures prepared from the spinal cord and muscle tissue. Furthermore, we monitored GABAA receptor-mediated currents by performing whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings. We found that ALLO (100 nM) reduced the action potential firing of spinal interneurons by 27% and that of ?-motoneurons by 33%. The inhibitory effects of the combination of propofol (1 µM) and ALLO on motoneuron-induced muscle contractions were additive. Moreover, ALLO evoked a tonic, GABAA receptor-mediated current (amplitude: 41 pA), without increasing phasic GABAergic transmission. Since we previously showed that at a clinically relevant concentration of 1 µM propofol enhanced phasic, but not tonic GABAergic inhibition, we conclude that ALLO and propofol target distinct subpopulations of GABAA receptors. These findings provide first evidence that the combined application of ALLO and propofol may help to reduce intraoperative movements and undesired side effects that are frequently observed under total intravenous anesthesia.
Project description:Correlative studies have strongly linked phasic changes in dopamine activity with reward prediction error signaling. But causal evidence that these brief changes in firing actually serve as error signals to drive associative learning is more tenuous. Although there is direct evidence that brief increases can substitute for positive prediction errors, there is no comparable evidence that similarly brief pauses can substitute for negative prediction errors. In the absence of such evidence, the effect of increases in firing could reflect novelty or salience, variables also correlated with dopamine activity. Here we provide evidence in support of the proposed linkage, showing in a modified Pavlovian over-expectation task that brief pauses in the firing of dopamine neurons in rat ventral tegmental area at the time of reward are sufficient to mimic the effects of endogenous negative prediction errors. These results support the proposal that brief changes in the firing of dopamine neurons serve as full-fledged bidirectional prediction error signals.
Project description:Ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons in the brain's reward circuit have a crucial role in mediating stress responses, including determining susceptibility versus resilience to social-stress-induced behavioural abnormalities. VTA dopamine neurons show two in vivo patterns of firing: low frequency tonic firing and high frequency phasic firing. Phasic firing of the neurons, which is well known to encode reward signals, is upregulated by repeated social-defeat stress, a highly validated mouse model of depression. Surprisingly, this pathophysiological effect is seen in susceptible mice only, with no apparent change in firing rate in resilient individuals. However, direct evidence--in real time--linking dopamine neuron phasic firing in promoting the susceptible (depression-like) phenotype is lacking. Here we took advantage of the temporal precision and cell-type and projection-pathway specificity of optogenetics to show that enhanced phasic firing of these neurons mediates susceptibility to social-defeat stress in freely behaving mice. We show that optogenetic induction of phasic, but not tonic, firing in VTA dopamine neurons of mice undergoing a subthreshold social-defeat paradigm rapidly induced a susceptible phenotype as measured by social avoidance and decreased sucrose preference. Optogenetic phasic stimulation of these neurons also quickly induced a susceptible phenotype in previously resilient mice that had been subjected to repeated social-defeat stress. Furthermore, we show differences in projection-pathway specificity in promoting stress susceptibility: phasic activation of VTA neurons projecting to the nucleus accumbens (NAc), but not to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), induced susceptibility to social-defeat stress. Conversely, optogenetic inhibition of the VTA-NAc projection induced resilience, whereas inhibition of the VTA-mPFC projection promoted susceptibility. Overall, these studies reveal novel firing-pattern- and neural-circuit-specific mechanisms of depression.
Project description:Synapses vary widely in the probability of neurotransmitter release. We tested the hypothesis that the zippered state of the trans-SNARE (Soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor Attachment protein REceptor) complex determines initial release probability. We tested this hypothesis at phasic and tonic synapses which differ by 100-1000-fold in neurotransmitter release probability. We injected, presynaptically, three Clostridial neurotoxins which bind and cleave at different sites on VAMP to determine whether these sites were occluded by the zippering of the SNARE complex or open to proteolytic attack. Under low stimulation conditions, the catalytic light-chain fragment of botulinum B (BoNT/B-LC) inhibited evoked release at both phasic and tonic synapses and cleaved VAMP; however, neither BoNT/D-LC nor tetanus neurotoxin (TeNT-LC) were effective in these conditions. The susceptibility of VAMP to only BoNT/B-LC indicated that SNARE complexes at both phasic and tonic synapses were partially zippered only at the N-terminal end to approximately the zero-layer with the C-terminal end exposed under resting state. Therefore, the existence of the same partially zippered state of the trans-SNARE complex at both phasic and tonic synapses indicates that release probability is not determined solely by the zippered state of the trans-SNARE complex at least to the zero-layer.