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Non-canonical members of circuits: A role for the locus coeruleus in reward related place field plasticity, and investigating differences in astrocyte calcium signaling between hippocampal layers

Kaufman, Alexandra Mansell

The hippocampus (HPC) is a brain area in the medial temporal lobe involved in spatial navigation, as well as the formation of episodic memories. A subset of the principal cells of the HPC, known as place cells, are active in specific locations of an environment, called the place fields. Dorsal hippocampal area CA1 contains place fields that are known to change their firing during spatial tasks where animals learn the location of a reward, known as goal-oriented learning (GOL) – CA1 place fields shift toward rewarded locations. Previous studies suggest that this preferentially occurs at novel rewarded locations in a familiar environment, but the mechanism is unknown. The locus coeruleus (LC) is a neuromodulatory nucleus in the brainstem that projects throughout the brain and releases norepinephrine and a small amount of dopamine. Stimulating locus coeruleus-hippocampal area CA1 projections (LC-CA1) was recently shown to improve performance on spatial memory tasks. Since performance on the GOL task is correlated with the degree of overrepresentation of rewarded locations, we hypothesized that the LC-CA1 projection was involved in reward-related place field reorganization.

Using in vivo two photon calcium imaging, we recorded the activity of the LC-CA1 projection during a head fixed GOL task with two phases – during the first phase, a water reward was presented in one location (RZ1), and in the second phase, it was moved to a novel location (RZ2). In the first phase of the task, the LC-CA1 axons were correlated with running, but in the second phase they showed an increase in activity preceding RZ2. To determine whether the LC-CA1 is involved in place field reorganization that normally occurs in RZ2, we optogenetically activated the projection just before RZ1, and saw a pronounced place field reorganization right before the reward. Conversely, inhibition of LC-CA1 at RZ2 attenuated place field reorganization at this site. Finally, LC-CA1 stimulation away from the reward did not lead to place field reorganization, indicating that the LC influences place field shifts in conjunction with other signals that are differentially active around rewards.

A full account of the effects of neuromodulation should also include astrocytes, since they respond to neuromodulators with large calcium signals that may be able to affect the function of neurons. We also recorded HPC astrocyte calcium activity during different behavioral tasks. Astrocytes showed occasional large calcium signals, with some differences in synchronicity and activity levels between hippocampal layers and behavioral paradigms. Future studies should determine whether the LC-CA1 projection affects place fields directly by affecting neural activity, indirectly via astrocytes, or both.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Neurobiology and Behavior
Thesis Advisors
Losonczy, Attila
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 31, 2020