Dopaminergic Contributions to Dexterous Skill in Cortex and Striatum

2020 Seed Grant
Christian R. Burgess, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

Coordinated multi-joint limb and digit movements – “manual dexterity” – underlie both specialized skills (e.g., playing the piano) and more mundane tasks (e.g., tying shoelaces). Impairments in dexterous skill cause significant disability, as occurs with motor cortical injury, Parkinson’s Disease, and a range of other pathologies. Clinical observations, as well as basic investigations, suggest that cortico-striatal circuits play a critical role in learning and performing dexterous skills. Furthermore, the neurotransmitter dopamine, released in the striatum, is thought to play a key role in learning related changes in the brain, especially those concerning motor behaviors. Here, we propose to first record dopamine transmitter release in rodents as they learn and execute a skilled reaching task. Next, we will block the dopamine release is specific downstream brain areas, including the motor cortex and striatum, to observe the neural and behavioral changes across learning that result from an abnormal dopamine system. This work will have implications for understanding and treating movement disorders linked to dopamine signaling, including Parkinson’s disease.

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