Bidirectional modulation of synapses and higher-order conditioning by dopamine neurons
Dr Yoshinori Aso
University of Cambridge
Animals learn an association between two stimuli through their experiences. Timing is an important factor and a stimulus that animals encountered before adverse events becomes something to avoid. If animals encounter the stimulus when they have been relieved from pain, it can become attractive. Changing the strength of connection between neuronal cells is the basis of storing information in the brain. A small subset of neuronal cells that contain dopamine play a key role in such processes in all animals and their malfunction results in brain disorders such as addiction. Elucidating the mechanisms that regulate the release of dopamine and how it changes the connection between neuronal cells is an important but challenging question.
We will use fruit flies to find neuronal cells that regulate the release of dopamine and produce an anatomical database and genetic tools to manipulate them. We will prove their functions in learning and study in detail at molecular levels how dopamine modulates the connection between neuronal cells.
The new findings from this project will have broad impact on our understanding of the neuronal networks used for learning and memory-based behavioural choice.