Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory-mediated demyelinating disease of the human central nervous system. The clinical disease course is variable, usually starts with reversible episodes of neurological disability in the third or fourth decade of life, and transforms into a disease of continuous and irreversible neurological decline by the sixth or seventh decade. We review data that support neurodegeneration as the major cause of irreversible neurological disability in MS patients. We question whether inflammatory demyelination is primary or secondary in the disease process and discuss the challenges of elucidating the cause of MS and developing therapies that will delay or prevent the irreversible and progressive neurological decline that most MS patients endure.
The study of decision making spans such varied fields as neuroscience, psychology, economics, statistics, political science, and computer science. Despite this diversity of applications, most decisions share common elements including deliberation and commitment. Here we evaluate recent progress in understanding how these basic elements of decision formation are implemented in the brain. We focus on simple decisions that can be studied in the laboratory but emphasize general principles likely to extend to other settings.
Scientists in many different fields have been attracted to the study of habits because of the power habits have over behavior and because they invoke a dichotomy between the conscious, voluntary control over behavior, considered the essence of higher-order deliberative behavioral control, and lower-order behavioral control that is scarcely available to consciousness. A broad spectrum of behavioral routines and rituals can become habitual and stereotyped through learning. Others have a strong innate basis. Repetitive behaviors can also appear as cardinal symptoms in a broad range of neurological and neuropsychiatric illness and in addictive states. This review suggests that many of these behaviors could emerge as a result of experience-dependent plasticity in basal ganglia-based circuits that can influence not only overt behaviors but also cognitive activity. Culturally based rituals may reflect privileged interactions between the basal ganglia and cortically based circuits that influence social, emotional, and action functions of the brain.
More than three decades of research have demonstrated a role for hippocampal place cells in representation of the spatial environment in the brain. New studies have shown that place cells are part of a broader circuit for dynamic representation of self-location. A key component of this network is the entorhinal grid cells, which, by virtue of their tessellating firing fields, may provide the elements of a path integration-based neural map. Here we review how place cells and grid cells may form the basis for quantitative spatiotemporal representation of places, routes, and associated experiences during behavior and in memory. Because these cell types have some of the most conspicuous behavioral correlates among neurons in nonsensory cortical systems, and because their spatial firing structure reflects computations internally in the system, studies of entorhinal-hippocampal representations may offer considerable insight into general principles of cortical network dynamics.
The ability to recognize a previously experienced stimulus is supported by two processes: recollection of the stimulus in the context of other information associated with the experience, and a sense of familiarity with the features of the stimulus. Although familiarity and recollectliou are Functionally distinct, there is considerable debate about how these kinds of memory are supported by regions in the medial temporal lobes (MTL). Here, we review evidence for the distinction between recollection and familiarity and then consider the evidence regarding the neural mechanisms of these processes. Evidence from neuropsychological, neuroimaging, and neurophysiological studies of humans, monkeys, and rats indicates that different subregions of the MTL make distinct contributions to recollection and familiarity. The data suggest that the hippocampus is critical for recollection but not familiarity. The parahippocampal cortex also contributes to recollection, possibly via the representation and retrieval of contextual (especially spatial) information, whereas perirhinal cortex contributes to and is necessary for familiarity-based recognition. The findings are consistent with an anatomically guided hypothesis about the functional organization of the MTL and suggest mechanisms by which the anatomical components of the MTL interact to support the phenomenology of recollection and familiarity.
Spike timing-dependent plasticity (STDP) as a Hebbian synaptic learning rule has been demonstrated in various neural circuits over a wide spectrum of species, from insects to humans. The dependence of synaptic modification on the order of pre- and postsynaptic spiking within a critical window of tens of milliseconds has profound functional implications. Over the past decade, significant progress has been made in understanding the cellular mechanisms of STDP at both excitatory and inhibitory synapses and of the associated changes in neuronal excitability and synaptic integration. Beyond the basic asymmetric window, recent studies have also revealed several layers of complexity in STDP, including its dependence on dendritic location, the nonlinear integration of synaptic modification induced by complex spike trains, and the modulation of STDP by inhibitory and neuromodulatory inputs. Finally, the functional consequences of STDP have been examined directly in an increasing number of neural circuits in vivo.
The discovery that expansion of unstable repeats can cause a variety of neurological disorders has changed the landscape of disease-oriented research for several forms of mental retardation, Huntington disease, inherited ataxias, and muscular dystrophy. The dynamic nature of these mutations provided an explanation for the variable phenotype expressivity within a family. Beyond diagnosis and genetic counseling, the benefits from studying these disorders have been noted in both neurobiology and cell biology. Examples include insight about the role of translational control in synaptic plasticity, the role of RNA processing in the integrity of muscle and neuronal function, the importance of Fe-S-containing enzymes for cellular energy, and the dramatic effects of altering protein conformations on neuronal function and survival. It is exciting that within a span of 15 years, pathogenesis studies of this class of disorders are beginning to reveal pathways that are potential therapeutic targets.
Each of the descending pathways involved in motor control has a number of anatomical, molecular, pharmacological, and neuroinformatic characteristics. They are differentially involved in motor control, a process that results from operations involving the entire motor network rather than from the brain commanding the spinal cord. A given pathway can have many functional roles. This review explores to what extent descending pathways are highly conserved across species and concludes that there are actually rather widespread species differences, for example, in the transmission of information from the corticospinal tract to upper limb motoneurons. The significance of direct, corticomotoneuronal (CM) connections, which were discovered a little more than 50 years ago, is reassessed. I conclude that although these connections operate in parallel with other less direct linkages to motoneurons, CM influence is significant and may subserve some special functions including adaptive motor behaviors involving the distal extremities.
Many lesion studies report an amazing variety of deficits in behavioral functions that cannot possibly be encoded in great detail by the relativelv small number of midbrain dopamine neurons. Although hoping to unravel a single dopamine function underlying these phenomena, electrophysiological and neurochemical studies still give a confusing, mutually exclusive, and partly contradictory account of dopamine's role in behavior. However, tile speed of observed phasic dopamine changes varies several thousand fold, which offers a means to differentiate the behavioral relationships according to their time courses. Thus dopamine is involved in mediating the reactivity of the organism to the environment at different time scales, from fast impulse responses related to reward via slower changes with uncertainty, punishment, and possibly movement to the tonic enabling of postsynaptic motor, cognitive, and motivational systems deficient in Parkinson's disease.
Deudritic spines are the primary recipients of excitatory input in the central nervous system. They provide biochemical compartments that locally control the signaling mechanisms at individual synapses. Hippocampal spines show structural plasticity as the basis for the physiological changes in synaptic efficacy that underlie learning and memory. Spine structure is regulated by molecular mechanisms that are fine-tuned and adjusted according to developmental age, level and direction of synaptic activity, specific brain region, and exact behavioral or experimental conditions. Reciprocal changes between the structure and function of spines impact both local and global integration of signals within dendrites. Advances in imaging and computing technologies may provide the resources needed to reconstruct entire neural circuits. Key to this endeavor is having sufficient resolution to determine the extrinsic factors (such as perisynaptic astroglia) and the intrinsic factors (such as core subcellular organelles) that are required to build and maintain synapses.
Many major human neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), display axonal pathologies including abnormal accumulations of proteins and organelles. Such pathologies highlight damage to the axon as part of the pathogenic process and, in particular, damage to transport of cargoes through axons. Indeed, we now know that disruption of axonal transport is an early and perhaps causative event in many of these diseases. Here, we review the role of axonal transport in neurodegenerative disease.
Sensory experience and the resulting synaptic activity within the brain are critical for the proper development of neural circuits. Experience-driven synaptic activity causes membrane depolarization and calcium influx into select neurons within a neural circuit, which in turn trigger a wide variety of cellular changes that alter the synaptic connectivity within the neural circuit. One way in which calcium influx leads to the remodeling of synapses made by neurons is through the activation of new gene transcription. Recent studies have identified many of the signaling pathways that link neuronal activity to transcription, revealing both the transcription factors that mediate this process and the neuronal activity-regulated genes. These studies indicate that neuronal activity regulates a complex program of gene expression involved in many aspects of neuronal development, including dendritic branching, synapse maturation, and synapse elimination. Genetic mutations in several key regulators of activity-dependent transcription give rise to neurological disorders in humans, suggesting that future studies of this gene expression program will likely provide insight into the. mechanisms by which the disruption of proper synapse development can give rise to a variety of neurological disorders.
Traditionally, researchers have believed that axons are highly dependent on their cell bodies for long-term survival. However, recent studies point to the existence of axon-autonomous mechanism(s) that regulate rapid axon degeneration after axotomy. Here, we review the cellular and molecular events that underlie this process, termed Wallerian degeneration. We describe the biphasic nature of axon degeneration after axotomy and our current understanding of how Wld S —an extraordinary protein formed by fusing a Ube4b sequence to Nmnat1—acts to protect severed axons. Interestingly, the neuroprotective effects of Wld S span all species tested, which suggests that there is an ancient, Wld S -sensitive axon destruction program. Recent studies with Wld S also reveal that Wallerian degeneration is genetically related to several dying back axonopathies, thus arguing that Wallerian degeneration can serve as a useful model to understand, and potentially treat, axon degeneration in diverse traumatic or disease contexts.
Oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells are highly specialized glial cells that wrap axons with a multilayered myelin membrane for rapid impulse conduction. Investigators have recently identified axonal signals that recruit myelin-forming Schwann cells from an alternate fate of simple axonal engulfment. This is the evolutionary oldest form of axon-glia interaction, and its function is unknown. Recent observations suggest that oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells not only myelinate axons but also maintain their long-term functional integrity. Mutations in the mouse reveal that axonal support by oligodendrocytes is independent of myelin assembly. The underlying mechanisms are still poorly understood; we do know that to maintain axonal integrity, mammalian myelin-forming cells require the expression of some glia-specific proteins, including CNP, PLP, and MAG, as well as intact peroxisomes, none of which is necessary for myelin assembly. Loss of glial support causes progressive axon degeneration and possibly local inflammation, both of which are likely to contribute to a variety of neuronal diseases in the central and peripheral nervous systems.
Historically, the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system has been implicated in arousal, but recent findings suggest that this system plays a more complex and specific role in the control of behavior than investigators previously thought. We review neurophysiological and modeling studies in monkey that support a new theory of LC-NE function. LC neurons exhibit two modes of activity, phasic and tonic. Phasic LC activation is driven by the outcome of task-related decision processes and is proposed to facilitate ensuing behaviors and to help optimize task performance (exploitation). When utility in the task wanes, LC neurons exhibit a tonic activity mode, associated with disengagement from the current task and a search for alternative behaviors (exploration). Monkey LC receives prominent, direct inputs from the anterior cingulate (ACC) and orbitofrontal cortices (OFC), both of which are thought to monitor task-related utility. We propose that these frontal areas produce the above patterns of LC activity to optimize utility on both short and long timescales.
Elegant sensory structures in the inner ear have evolved to measure head motion. These vestibular receptors consist of highly conserved semicircular canals and otolith organs. Unlike other senses, vestibular information in the central nervous system becomes immediately multisensory and multimodal. There is no overt, readily recognizable conscious sensation from these organs, yet vestibular signals contribute to a surprising range of brain functions, from the most automatic reflexes to spatial perception and motor coordination. Critical to these diverse, multimodal functions are multiple computationally intriguing levels of processing. For example, the need for multisensory integration necessitates vestibular representations in multiple reference frames. Proprioceptive-vestibular interactions, coupled with corollary discharge of a motor plan, allow the brain to distinguish actively generated from passive head movements. Finally, nonlinear interactions between otolith and canal signals allow the vestibular system to function as an inertial sensor and contribute critically to both navigation and spatial orientation.
Patterns of synaptic connections in the visual system are remarkably precise. These connections dictate the receptive field properties of individual visual neurons and ultimately determine the quality of visual perception. Spontaneous neural activity is necessary for the development of various receptive field properties and visual feature maps. In recent years, attention has shifted to understanding the mechanisms by which spontaneous activity in the developing retina, lateral geniculate nucleus, and visual cortex instruct the axonal and dendritic refinements that give rise to orderly connections in the visual system. Axon guidance cues and a growing list of other molecules, including immune system factors, hive also recently been implicated in visual circuit wiring. A major goal now is to determine how these molecules cooperate with spontaneous and visually evoked activity to give rise to the circuits underlying precise receptive field tuning and orderly Visual maps.
A mechanistic understanding of attention is necessary for the elucidation of the neurobiological basis of conscious experience. This chapter presents a framework for thinking about attention that facilitates the analysis of this cognitive process in terms of underlying neural mechanisms. Four processes are fundamental to attention: working memory, top-down sensitivity control, competitive selection, and automatic bottom-up filtering for salient stimuli. Each process makes a distinct and essential contribution to attention. Voluntary control of attention involves the first three processes (working memory, top-down sensitivity control, and competitive selection) operating in a recurrent loop. Recent results from neurobiological research on attention are discussed within this framework.
A category of stimuli of great importance for primates, humans in particular, is that formed by actions done by other individuals. If we want to survive, we must understand the actions of others. Furthermore, without action understanding, social organization is impossible. In the case of humans, there is another faculty that depends on the observation of others' actions: imitation learning. Unlike most species, we are able to learn by imitation, and this faculty is at the basis of human culture. In this review we present data on a neurophysiological mechanism-the mirror-neuron mechanism-that appears to play a fundamental role in both action understanding and imitation. We describe first the functional properties of mirror neurons in monkeys. We review next the characteristics of the mirror-neuron system in humans. We stress, in particular, those properties specific to the human mirror-neuron system that might explain the human capacity to learn by imitation. We conclude by discussing the relationship between the mirror-neuron system and language.
Forty years since the initial discovery of neurogenesis in the postnatal rat hippocampus, investigators have now firmly established that active neurogenesis from neural progenitors continues throughout life in discrete regions of the central nervous systems (CNS) of all mammals, including humans. Significant progress has been made over the past few years in understanding the developmental process and regulation of adult neurogenesis, including proliferation, fate specification, neuronal maturation, targeting, and synaptic integration of the newborn neurons. The function of this evolutionarily conserved phenomenon, however, remains elusive in mammals. Adult neurogenesis represents a striking example of structural plasticity in the mature CNS environment. Advances in our understanding of adult neurogenesis will not only shed light on the basic principles of adult plasticity, but also may lead to strategies for cell replacement therapy after injury or degenerative neurological diseases.