Theses Doctoral

Functional Consequences of Dendritic Inhibition in the Hippocampus

Lovett-Barron, Matthew

The ability to store and recall memories is an essential function of nervous systems, and at the core of subjective human experience. As such, neuropsychiatric conditions that impair our memory capacity are devastating. Learning and memory in mammals have long been known to depend on the hippocampus, which has motivated widespread research efforts that converge on two broad themes: determining how different cell types in the hippocampus interact to generate neural activity patterns (structure), and determining how neural activity patterns implement learning and memory (function). Central to both these pursuits are pyramidal cells (PCs) in CA1, the primary hippocampal output, which transform excitatory synaptic inputs into the action potential output patterns that encode information about locations or events relevant for memory. CA1 PCs are embedded in a network of diverse inhibitory (GABA-releasing) interneurons, which may play unique roles in sculpting the activity patterns of PCs that implement memory functions. As a consequence, investigating the functional impact of defined GABAergic interneurons can provide an experimental entry point for linking neural circuit structure to defined computations and behavioral functions in the hippocampal memory system. In this thesis I have applied a panel of novel methodologies to the mouse hippocampus in vitro and in vivo to link structure to function and behavior, and determine 1) how hippocampal inhibitory cell types shape distinct patterns of PC activity, and 2) how these inhibitory cell types contribute to the encoding of contextual fear memories.
To first establish the means by which interneuron subtypes contribute to PC activity patterns, I used optogenetic techniques to activate spatiotemporally distributed synaptic excitation to CA1 in vitro, and recorded from PCs to quantify the frequency of output spikes relative to input levels. I subsequently used a dual viral and transgenic approach to combine this technique with selective pharmacogenetic inactivation of identified interneurons during synaptic excitation. I found that inactivating somatostatin-expressing (Som+) dendrite-targeting interneurons increased the gain of PC input-output transformations by causing more output spikes, while inactivating parvalbumin-expressing (Pvalb+) soma-targeting interneurons did not. Inactivating Som+ inhibitory interneurons allowed the dendrites of PCs to generate local NMDA receptor-mediated electrogenesis in response to synaptic input, resulting in high frequency bursts of output spikes. This discovery suggests neuronal coding via hippocampal burst spiking output can be regulated by Som+ dendrite-targeting interneurons in CA1.
Specific types of neural codes are believed to have different functional roles. Neural coding with burst spikes is known to support hippocampal contributions to classical contextual fear conditioning (CFC). In CFC the hippocampus encodes the multisensory context as a conditioned stimulus (CS), whose burst spiking output is paired with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (US) in the amygdala, allowing for fear memory recall upon future exposure to the CS. To investigate the contribution of Som+ interneurons to this behavior, I designed a CFC task for head-fixed mice, allowing for optical recording and manipulation of activity in defined CA1 cell types during learning. Pharmacogenetic inactivation of CA1 Som+ interneurons, but not Pvalb+ interneurons, prevented the encoding of CFC. 2-photon Ca2+ imaging revealed that during CFC the US activated CA1 Som+ interneurons via cholinergic input from the medial septum, driving inhibition to the PC distal dendrites that receive coincident excitatory input from the entorhinal cortex. Inactivating Som+ interneurons increases PC population activity, and suppressing dendritic inhibition during the US alone is sufficient to prevent fear learning. These results suggest sensory features of the US reach CA1 PCs through entorhinal inputs, and thus require active inhibitory filtering by Som+ interneurons to ensure hippocampal output exclusively encodes the CS during CFC.
In conclusion, I found that Som+ interneurons in CA1 are an effective regulator of PC burst spiking because they inhibit dendritic electrogenesis. This function is used by the hippocampus to prevent the US from influencing the burst spike output of PCs that encode the CS, ensuring successful CFC. This work bridges the gap between cells, circuits, and behavior, and provides mechanistic insight into one of our most essential cognitive functions - the ability to learn and remember.



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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Losonczy, Attila
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014