Josh Sanes wins Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience

February 6, 2020

Banishing "Black/White Thinking": A Trio of Teaching Tricks.

December 6, 2019

Born RT.

Literally hundreds of statisticians have rightly called for an end to statistical significance testing (Amrhein et al., 2019; Wasserstein et al., 2019). But the practice of arbitrarily thresholding p values is not only deeply embedded in statistical practice, it is also congenial to the human mind. It is thus not sufficient to tell our students, "Don't do this." We must vividly show them why the practice is wrong and its effects detrimental to scientific progress. I offer three teaching examples I have found to be useful in prompting students to think more deeply about the problem and to begin to interpret the results of statistical procedures as measures of how evidence should change our beliefs, and not as bright lines separating truth from falsehood.


Neural circuits for evidence accumulation and decision making in larval zebrafish

December 2, 2019

Bahl A, Engert F

To make appropriate decisions, animals need to accumulate sensory evidence. Simple integrator models can explain many aspects of such behavior, but how the underlying computations are mechanistically implemented in the brain remains poorly understood. Here we approach this problem by adapting the random-dot motion discrimination paradigm, classically used in primate studies, to larval zebrafish. Using their innate optomotor response as a measure of decision making, we find that larval zebrafish accumulate and remember motion evidence over many seconds and that the behavior is in close agreement with a bounded leaky integrator model. Through the use of brain-wide functional imaging, we identify three neuronal clusters in the anterior hindbrain that are well suited to execute the underlying computations. By relating the dynamics within these structures to individual behavioral choices, we propose a biophysically plausible circuit arrangement in which an evidence integrator competes against a dynamic decision threshold to activate a downstream motor command.

Nat Neurosci

Neurodevelopmental shifts in learned value transfer on cognitive control during adolescence.

December 1, 2019

Insel C, Charifson M, Somerville LH.

Value-associated cues in the environment often enhance subsequent goal-directed behaviors in adults, a phenomenon supported by the integration of motivational and cognitive neural systems. Given that the interactions among these systems change throughout adolescence, we tested when the beneficial effects of value associations on subsequent cognitive control performance emerge during adolescence. Participants (N = 81) aged 13–20 completed a reinforcement learning task with four cue-incentive pairings that could yield high gain, low gain, high loss, or low loss outcomes. Next, participants completed a Go/NoGo task during fMRI where the NoGo targets comprised the previously learned cues, which tested how prior value associations influence cognitive control performance. Improved accuracy for previously learned high gain relative to low gain cues emerged with age. Older adolescents exhibited enhanced recruitment of the dorsal striatum and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex during cognitive control execution to previously learned high gain relative to low gain cues. Older adolescents also expressed increased coupling between the dorsal striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex for high gain cues, whereas younger adolescents expressed increased coupling between the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. These findings reveal that learned high value cue-incentive associations enhance cognitive control in late adolescence in parallel with value-selective recruitment of corticostriatal systems.

Sensorimotor experience remaps visual input to a heading-direction network.

December 1, 2019

Fisher YE, Lu J, D'Alessandro I, Wilson RI.

In the Drosophila brain, 'compass' neurons track the orientation of the body and head (the fly's heading) during navigation. In the absence of visual cues, the compass neuron network estimates heading by integrating self-movement signals over time. When a visual cue is present, the estimate of the network is more accurate. Visual inputs to compass neurons are thought to originate from inhibitory neurons called R neurons (also known as ring neurons); the receptive fields of R neurons tile visual space. The axon of each R neuron overlaps with the dendrites of every compass neuron, raising the question of how visual cues are integrated into the compass. Here, using in vivo whole-cell recordings, we show that a visual cue can evoke synaptic inhibition in compass neurons and that R neurons mediate this inhibition. Each compass neuron is inhibited only by specific visual cue positions, indicating that many potential connections from R neurons onto compass neurons are actually weak or silent. We also show that the pattern of visually evoked inhibition can reorganize over minutes as the fly explores an altered virtual-reality environment. Using ensemble calcium imaging, we demonstrate that this reorganization causes persistent changes in the compass coordinate frame. Taken together, our data suggest a model in which correlated pre- and postsynaptic activity triggers associative long-term synaptic depression of visually evoked inhibition in compass neurons. Our findings provide evidence for the theoretical proposal that associative plasticity of sensory inputs, when combined with attractor dynamics, can reconcile self-movement information with changing external cues to generate a coherent sense of direction.