Dynamic Modulation of Synaptic Plasticity During Spatial Exploration

2022 Seed Grant
Yvette Fisher, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley

The Virginia (Ginny) & Roger Carlson Seed Grant

Cognitive flexibility is critical for appropriately adjusting thoughts and behaviors to meet changing demands and is frequently disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders. In brain regions implicated in these disorders’ dopamine modulates the synaptic connections between neurons. However, we do not understand how this modulation supports flexible cognitive processing because it is challenging to directly relate changes in synaptic connections to behavior. Our recent work in Drosophila has uncovered a novel circuit for studying this process during exploration behavior that is more amenable to direct measurements of how changes to synaptic connections shape behavior. We found evidence for precisely which synaptic connections can store a “snap-shot” of the flies’ current surroundings during exploration. We have preliminary evidence that specialized dopamine neurons modulate this snap-shot learning process. We will combine genetic manipulations, recordings of brain activity and virtual reality to explore how dopamine release shapes synaptic connections during exploration. If successful, this proposal would define, at a mechanistic synaptic level, how dopamine shapes memory formation that guides behavior.

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