Editors' ChoiceNeuroscience

Animal Behavior Follows Rewards

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Sci. Signal.  30 Sep 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 345, pp. ec273
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005961

Animal behavior is learned and reinforced by rewards. On a molecular level, the reward comes in the form of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which modulates synapses. The exact timing and mechanism of this process remain unknown. Using optical stimulation, Yagishita et al. found that dopaminergic modulation involved dendritic spine enlargement only during an extremely narrow time window. Known as reinforcement plasticity, this cellular basis for learning could provide insight into psychiatric disorders involving dopaminergic regulation, such as depression, drug addiction, and schizophrenia.

S. Yagishita, A. Hayashi-Takagi, G. C.R. Ellis-Davies, H. Urakubo, S. Ishii, H. Kasai, A critical time window for dopamine actions on the structural plasticity of dendritic spines. Science 345, 1616–1620 (2014). [Abstract] [Full Text]