Mechanisms of action selection and timing in substantia nigra neurons.
The timing of actions is critical for adaptive behavior. In this study we measured neural activity in the substantia nigra as mice learned to change their action duration to earn food rewards. We observed dramatic changes in single unit activity during learning: both dopaminergic and GABAergic neurons changed their activity in relation to behavior to reflect the learned instrumental contingency and the action duration. We found the emergence of "action-on" neurons that increased firing for the duration of the lever press and mirror-image "action-off" neurons that paused at the same time. This pattern is especially common among GABAergic neurons. The activity of many neurons also reflected confidence about the just completed action and the prospect of reward. Being correlated with the relative duration of the completed action, their activity could predict the likelihood of reward collection. Compared with the GABAergic neurons, the activity of dopaminergic neurons was more commonly modulated by the discriminative stimulus signaling the start of each trial, suggesting that their phasic activity reflected sensory salience rather than any reward prediction error found in previous work. In short, these results suggest that (1) nigral activity is highly plastic and modified by the learning of the instrumental contingency; (2) GABAergic output from the substantia nigra can simultaneously inhibit and disinhibit downstream structures, while the dopaminergic output also provide bidirectional modulation of the corticostriatal circuits; (3) dopaminergic and GABAergic neurons show similar task-related activity, although DA neurons are more responsive to the trial start signal.
Fan, D; Rossi, MA; Yin, HH
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