Midbrain dopaminergic neurons respond to unexpected and biologically salient events, but little is known about the sensory systems underlying this response. Here we describe, in the rat, a direct projection from a primary visual structure, the midbrain superior colliculus (SC), to the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) where direct synaptic contacts are made with both dopaminergic and non-dopaminergic neurons. Complementary electrophysiological data reveal that short-latency visual responses in the SNc are abolished by ipsilateral lesions of the SC and increased by local collicular stimulation. These results show that the tectonigral projection is ideally located to relay short-latency visual information to dopamine-containing regions of the ventral midbrain. We conclude that it is within this afferent sensory circuitry that the critical perceptual discriminations that identify stimuli as both unpredicted and biologically salient are made.
Unexpected, biologically salient stimuli elicit a short-latency, phasic response in midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neurons. Although this signal is important for reinforcement learning, the information it conveys to forebrain target structures remains uncertain. One way to decode the phasic DA signal would be to determine the perceptual properties of sensory inputs to DA neurons. After local disinhibition of the superior colliculus in anesthetized rats, DA neurons became visually responsive, whereas disinhibition of the visual cortex was ineffective. As the primary source of visual afferents, the limited processing capacities of the colliculus may constrain the visual information content of phasic DA responses.
Disgust has been linked to several psychopathologies, although a role in depression has been questioned. However, it has recently been proposed that rather than general disgust sensitivity, disgust directed toward the self (self-disgust) may influence the development of depression, providing a causal link between dysfunctional cognitions and depressive symptomatology. This possibility was examined by developing a scale to measure self-disgust (the Self-Disgust Scale; SDS) and then using mediator analysis to determine if self-disgust was able to explain the relationship between dysfunctional cognitions (measured with the use of the Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale) and depressive symptomatology (measured with the use of the Beck Depression Inventory and the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale). The developed SDS was found to exhibit a high level of internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and concurrent validity. Principal-components analysis revealed two factors to underlie responses to SDS items: the 'Disgusting self,' concerned with enduring, context independent aspects of the self, and 'Disgusting ways,' concerned with behavior. Self-disgust was found to mediate the relationship between dysfunctional cognitions and depressive symptomatology, demonstrating for the first time that self-disgust plays a role in depression.
Extracellular single-unit recording and iontophoresis were used to examine the effect of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and the competitive NMDA antagonist (+/-)-4-(3-phosphonopropyl)-2-piperazine carboxylic acid (CPP) on the firing rate and firing pattern of A9 dopamine (DA) neurons in the rat. Administration of NMDA produced a dose-dependent increase in firing rate (up to nearly 300% of baseline at the highest ejection current), which could be blocked by iontophoretic CPP. Low currents (less than 10 nA) were sufficient to induce apparent depolarisation inactivation in some neurons. In addition to this effect on firing rate, NMDA also caused a dramatic increase in burst firing, which was also dose dependent; cells made more bursts, and each burst consisted of more spikes. The only measured aspect of burst morphology that was not affected was the mean burst interspike interval. All nonbursting cells (n = 10) were converted to burst firing by the drug. CPP administered alone was found to reduce burst firing, without affecting the firing rate. These data suggest that a tonically active excitatory amino acid input to A9 DA neurons is responsible for inducing burst firing in vivo and that this input seems to operate via the NMDA receptor, possibly by virtue of its link to a Ca2+ ionophore.
The superior colliculus (SC) is responsible for sensorimotor transformations required to direct gaze toward or away from unexpected, biologically salient events. Significant changes in the external world are signaled to SC through primary multisensory afferents, spatially organized according to a retinotopic topography. For animals, where an unexpected event could indicate the presence of either predator or prey, early decisions to approach or avoid are particularly important. Rodents’ ecology dictates predators are most often detected initially as movements in upper visual field (mapped in medial SC), while appetitive stimuli are normally found in lower visual field (mapped in lateral SC). Our purpose was to exploit this functional segregation to reveal neural sites that can bias or modulate initial approach or avoidance responses. Small injections of Fluoro-Gold were made into medial or lateral sub-regions of intermediate and deep layers of SC (SCm/SCl). A remarkable segregation of input to these two functionally defined areas was found. (i) There were structures that projected only to SCm (e.g., specific cortical areas, lateral geniculate and suprageniculate thalamic nuclei, ventromedial and premammillary hypothalamic nuclei, and several brainstem areas) or SCl (e.g., primary somatosensory cortex representing upper body parts and vibrissae and parvicellular reticular nucleus in the brainstem). (ii) Other structures projected to both SCm and SCl but from topographically segregated populations of neurons (e.g., zona incerta and substantia nigra pars reticulata). (iii) There were a few brainstem areas in which retrogradely labeled neurons were spatially overlapping (e.g., pedunculopontine nucleus and locus coeruleus). These results indicate significantly more structures across the rat neuraxis are in a position to modulate defense responses evoked from SCm, and that neural mechanisms modulating SC-mediated defense or appetitive behavior are almost entirely segregated.
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