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 UCL’s Sainsbury Wellcome have discovered how individual neurons in mice are 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 specific site, there is an increase in sensory responses of neurons in the visual cortex. However, it was not known How do these states interact to modulate responses of individual neurons since no experimental model could address this question in the same animal, said Takahiro Kanamori, senior research fellow at 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 were recorded from excitatory neurons in layer 2/3 of the primary visual cortex, as these neurons have previously been shown to be more responsive when running in mice and during spatial attention tasks in primate studies.
“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. from the effect of running.” Tom Mersek Flugel, director of the SWC Center and lead author of the study said.
The team also tracked how individual neurons were modulated by spatial attention or running across days. They found that modulation by actuation is quite stable even across days, while modification by spatial attention is very dynamic and unreliable across days or even within a day. The researchers’ next steps are to understand the mechanisms by which this distinct response may occur at the molecular level.
This research was funded by Postdoctoral Fellowships from the Uehara Memorial Foundation and the Kanae Foundation and a Sainsbury Wellcome Center Core Grant from the Gatsby Charity Foundation (GAT3755) and Wellcome (219627/Z/19/Z).