Attention and running affect individual brain cells independently

Kanamori and Mrsic-Flogel designed a behavioral task in which rats had to pay attention to one of two locations on a computer screen and distinguish the direction of sad stimuli to obtain a reward. Credit: Sainsbury Wellcome Center

When you don’t pay attention, performance drops. For example, you are four times more likely to get into a crash if you use your phone while driving. We know that differences in brain states, such as differences in attention, can affect sensory processing, but how do these conditions affect individual brain cells?

Neuroscientists at Sainsbury Wellcome Center (SWC) at UCL have figured out how to do just that individual neurons in mice It is affected by two different cognitive and behavioral states – attention and running. It was believed that these two nations share a common mechanism. However, in a new study published today in neuronSWC researchers found that spatial attention and operation influence individual neurons independently with different dynamics.

“Previous studies in mice and primates have shown that spatial attention and running have very similar effects on sensory processing. When a mouse runs or when a primate is paying attention to a particular site, there is an increase in sensory responses from neurons in the brain. visual cortex. However, it was not known how these states interact to modulate the responses of individual neurons because there is no experimental model that can address this question in the same animal,” said Takahiro Kanamori, a senior researcher in the Mrsic-Flogel Laboratory at SWC and first author on the paper.

To solve this problem, Kanamori and Mrsic-Flogel designed a behavioral task in which rats had to pay attention to one of the two locations on a computer screen and distinguish the direction of grading stimuli for a reward. Location can change during a session to cause a change in attention state and in all experiments, rats can choose to run or sit, which allowed neuroscientists to compare the effect of spatial attention and action on neural responses.

Kanamori was recorded from excitatory neurons in layer 2/3 of primary visual cortexThese neurons have previously been shown to be more responsive when running in mice and during spatial attention tasks in primate studies.

Attention and running affect individual brain cells independently

Brain slice showing the GCaMP6f calcium indicator (green) expressed in the upper layers of the visual cortex. Red are inhibitory neurons, while blue shows the nuclei of all cells. Credit: Sainsbury Wellcome Center

“We found that attention and running are imposed on individual neurons independently. It makes sense to separate these signals, as attention is expected to improve visual processing even when animals are not running. While running, they may shift their visual attention to different locations in the environment without interference. of the impact of running,” said Tom Mersek Flugel, director of SWC and lead author of the study.

The team also traced how individual neurons are modulated by spatial Attention Or running through the days. They find that mods by operation are quite stable even across days, while mods by spatial attention Very dynamic and unreliable across days or even within a single day. The next steps for researchers are to understand it in molecular level The mechanisms by which this distinct response may occur.


Somatostatin neurons in the cerebral cortex cooperate


more information:
Tom Mrsic-Flogel et al, Modulation of the independent response of visual cortical neurons by attentional and behavioral states, neuron (2022).

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