This story is from the category The Brain
Date posted: 18/06/2012
A genetically modified version of the rabies virus is helping scientists at Harvard create the first comprehensive list of inputs that connect directly to dopamine neurons, a research effort that could help lead to treatments for Parkinson’s disease and addiction.
Dopamine plays a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning.
The researchers, led by Naoshige Uchida, associate professor of molecular and cellular biology, used the virus in two parts of the brain: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), known for processing reward, and the substantia nigra (SNc), known for motor control, to find other parts of the brain that connect directly to dopamine neurons.
“By understanding their inputs, we might be able to better understand how the function of dopamine neurons is regulated, and, in turn, how addiction happens, and how Parkinson’s disease and other motor-control disorders are affected by problems with dopamine neurons,” Uchida said.
“And because this application provides us with very quantitative data, it’s possible that this is a technique that might be useful in attacking the causes of those diseases.”
Both the VTA and SNc have high concentrations of dopamine neurons, but Uchida also chose to examine both areas because the cells in the two regions fire differently.
“We wanted to know what the difference was, generally,” Uchida said. “That’s why we compared the inputs to both structures. Based on how other neurons are connected there, we can start to explain why these two regions of the brain do different things.”
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