23 November 2010

Pete Redrave and Paul Overton win Wellcome Trust grant

Pete Redgrave and Paul Overton have won a grant of £297,756 from the Wellcome Trust for a project entitled "Sensory reinforced cortico-striatal plasticity".

The funding will retain post-docs Nico Vautrelle and Mariana Leriche for the next 3 years. A summary of the research is below.

We recently proposed the general hypothesis that converging signals within the basal ganglia functional architecture are ideally suited to determine agency and the development of novel actions. An initial test of this theoretical position has been conducted as part of our current Wellcome-funded project. As a result, we have discovered a novel form of sensory-reinforced cortico-striatal plasticity. Cortically-evoked neural responses in the striatum can be potentiated when reinforced by appropriately timed visual stimuli, under conditions when they are known to evoke phasic releases of dopamine and glutamate. Moreover, the conditions that produce electrophysiological potentiation also evoke localised striatal activations of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Our overall aim is, therefore, to conduct an integrated set of electrophysiological and anatomical experiments to investigate this new model of sensory-reinforced plasticity and discover the rules that govern this fundamental form of learning. Specifically, our experiments will: (i) define the experimental conditions required for plasticity; (ii) identify the striatal cell-types that can be modulated by sensory reinforcement; (iii) determine the contribution of particular striatal afferent projections; (iv) characterise the neurotransmitter systems involved: and (v) evaluate the involvement of ERK as a possible underlying biochemical system responsible for the observed sensory-reinforced plasticity.