We are measuring activity in defined neurons, within well-mapped circuits, to learn about how active touch and object location judgment are coded in the somatosensory system.
• Quantitative behavior of head-fixed mice
Inspired by work in primates: We have developed complex behavioral tasks in head-fixed mice. In one task mice use their whiskers to measure the distance to an object for a water reward. This task provides exquisite experimental control: the motor programs (whisking and licking) and the sensory inputs (whisker-object contact, force on the follicle) can be precisely measured. Another task is based on olfactory discrimination. These head-fixed behaviors allow us to apply reductionist biophysical techniques, such as whole cell recordings, population imaging with single cell resolution, photostimulation, and local pharmacology to dissect the contributions of specific neurons and neuronal populations to the behavior.
• Mapping somatosensory circuits: We are mapping the functional circuits underlying whisker-based somatosensation at the level of identified groups of neurons. We currently focus on the cortico-cortical, thalamo-cortical, and cortico-thalamic circuits connecting sensory and motor areas. To probe long-range projections we employ a combination of classical anatomy followed-up by ChR2-based circuit mapping. To probe local cortical microcircuits we use glutamate uncaging-based circuit mapping. We are exploring array tomography as a tool for circuit reconstruction.
• Recording and imaging neuronal populations: We use a variety of electrophysiological and imaging approaches to monitor the dynamics of neuronal populations in behaving mice.
• Genetically encoded sensors: We are part of a group of labs (with the Looger, Jayaraman and Kerr labs) helping to develop genetically encoded sensors for neuronal function. Currently we are focusing on calcium indicators.
Karel Svoboda Group Leader
Tsai-Wen Chen Research Staff
Diego Gutnisky Postdoctoral Associate
Mac Hooks Postdoctoral Associate
Hidehiko Inagaki Postdoctoral Associate
Aaron Kerlin Postdoctoral Associate
Nuo Li Postdoctoral Associate
Simon Peron Postdoctoral Associate
Nick Sofroniew Postdoctoral Associate
Perceptual decisions involve distributed cortical activity. Does information flow sequentially from one cortical area to another, or do networks of interconnected areas contribute at the same time? Here we delineate when and how activity in specific areas drives a whisker-based decision in mice. A short-term memory component temporally separated tactile "sensation" and "action" (licking). Using optogenetic inhibition (spatial resolution, 2 mm; temporal resolution, 100 ms), we surveyed the neocortex for regions driving behavior during specific behavioral epochs. Barrel cortex was critical for sensation. During the short-term memory, unilateral inhibition of anterior lateral motor cortex biased responses to the ipsilateral side. Consistently, barrel cortex showed stimulus-specific activity during sensation, whereas motor cortex showed choice-specific preparatory activity and movement-related activity, consistent with roles in motor planning and movement. These results suggest serial information flow from sensory to motor areas during perceptual decision making.
Many mammals forage and burrow in dark constrained spaces. Touch through facial whiskers is important during these activities, but the close quarters makes whisker deployment challenging. The diverse shapes of facial whiskers reflect distinct ecological niches. Rodent whiskers are conical, often with a remarkably linear taper. Here we use theoretical and experimental methods to analyze interactions of mouse whiskers with objects. When pushed into objects, conical whiskers suddenly slip at a critical angle. In contrast, cylindrical whiskers do not slip for biologically plausible movements. Conical whiskers sweep across objects and textures in characteristic sequences of brief sticks and slips, which provide information about the tactile world. In contrast, cylindrical whiskers stick and remain stuck, even when sweeping across fine textures. Thus the conical whisker structure is adaptive for sensor mobility in constrained environments and in feature extraction during active haptic exploration of objects and surfaces. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.01350.001.
Fluorescent calcium sensors are widely used to image neural activity. Using structure-based mutagenesis and neuron-based screening, we developed a family of ultrasensitive protein calcium sensors (GCaMP6) that outperformed other sensors in cultured neurons and in zebrafish, flies and mice in vivo. In layer 2/3 pyramidal neurons of the mouse visual cortex, GCaMP6 reliably detected single action potentials in neuronal somata and orientation-tuned synaptic calcium transients in individual dendritic spines. The orientation tuning of structurally persistent spines was largely stable over timescales of weeks. Orientation tuning averaged across spine populations predicted the tuning of their parent cell. Although the somata of GABAergic neurons showed little orientation tuning, their dendrites included highly tuned dendritic segments (5–40-µm long). GCaMP6 sensors thus provide new windows into the organization and dynamics of neural circuits over multiple spatial and temporal scales.
Active sensation requires the convergence of external stimuli with representations of body movements. We used mouse behavior, electrophysiology and optogenetics to dissect the temporal interactions among whisker movement, neural activity and sensation of touch. We photostimulated layer 4 activity in single barrels in a closed loop with whisking. Mimicking touch-related neural activity caused illusory perception of an object at a particular location, but scrambling the timing of the spikes over one whisking cycle (tens of milliseconds) did not abolish the illusion, indicating that knowledge of instantaneous whisker position is unnecessary for discriminating object locations. The illusions were induced only during bouts of directed whisking, when mice expected touch, and in the relevant barrel. Reducing activity biased behavior, consistent with a spike count code for object detection at a particular location. Our results show that mice integrate coding of touch with movement over timescales of a whisking bout to produce perception of active touch.
Cortical-feedback projections to primary sensory areas terminate most heavily in layer 1 (L1) of the neocortex, where they make synapses with tuft dendrites of pyramidal neurons. L1 input is thought to provide ‘contextual’ information, but the signals transmitted by L1 feedback remain uncharacterized. In the rodent somatosensory system, the spatially diffuse feedback projection from vibrissal motor cortex (vM1) to vibrissal somatosensory cortex (vS1, also known as the barrel cortex) may allow whisker touch to be interpreted in the context of whisker position to compute object location. When mice palpate objects with their whiskers to localize object features, whisker touch excites vS1 and later vM1 in a somatotopic manner. Here we use axonal calcium imaging to track activity in vM1-->vS1 afferents in L1 of the barrel cortex while mice performed whisker-dependent object localization. Spatially intermingled individual axons represent whisker movements, touch and other behavioural features. In a subpopulation of axons, activity depends on object location and persists for seconds after touch. Neurons in the barrel cortex thus have information to integrate movements and touches of multiple whiskers over time, key components of object identification and navigation by active touch.
Active dendrites provide neurons with powerful processing capabilities. However, little is known about the role of neuronal dendrites in behaviourally related circuit computations. Here we report that a novel global dendritic nonlinearity is involved in the integration of sensory and motor information within layer 5 pyramidal neurons during an active sensing behaviour. Layer 5 pyramidal neurons possess elaborate dendritic arborizations that receive functionally distinct inputs, each targeted to spatially separate regions. At the cellular level, coincident input from these segregated pathways initiates regenerative dendritic electrical events that produce bursts of action potential output and circuits featuring this powerful dendritic nonlinearity can implement computations based on input correlation. To examine this in vivo we recorded dendritic activity in layer 5 pyramidal neurons in the barrel cortex using two-photon calcium imaging in mice performing an object-localization task. Large-amplitude, global calcium signals were observed throughout the apical tuft dendrites when active touch occurred at particular object locations or whisker angles. Such global calcium signals are produced by dendritic plateau potentials that require both vibrissal sensory input and primary motor cortex activity. These data provide direct evidence of nonlinear dendritic processing of correlated sensory and motor information in the mammalian neocortex during active sensation.
The mechanisms linking sensation and action during learning are poorly understood. Layer 2/3 neurons in the motor cortex might participate in sensorimotor integration and learning; they receive input from sensory cortex and excite deep layer neurons, which control movement. Here we imaged activity in the same set of layer 2/3 neurons in the motor cortex over weeks, while mice learned to detect objects with their whiskers and report detection with licking. Spatially intermingled neurons represented sensory (touch) and motor behaviours (whisker movements and licking). With learning, the population-level representation of task-related licking strengthened. In trained mice, population-level representations were redundant and stable, despite dynamism of single-neuron representations. The activity of a subpopulation of neurons was consistent with touch driving licking behaviour. Our results suggest that ensembles of motor cortex neurons couple sensory input to multiple, related motor programs during learning.
Classical studies have related the spiking of selected neocortical neurons to behavior, but little is known about activity sampled from the entire neural population. We recorded from neurons selected independent of spiking, using cell-attached recordings and two-photon calcium imaging, in the barrel cortex of mice performing an object localization task. Spike rates varied across neurons, from silence to >60 Hz. Responses were diverse, with some neurons showing large increases in spike rate when whiskers contacted the object. Nearly half the neurons discriminated object location; a small fraction of neurons discriminated perfectly. More active neurons were more discriminative. Layer (L) 4 and L5 contained the highest fractions of discriminating neurons (∼63% and 79%, respectively), but a few L2/3 neurons were also highly discriminating. Approximately 13,000 spikes per activated barrel column were available to mice for decision making. Coding of object location in the barrel cortex is therefore highly redundant.
Vibrissa-based object localization in head-fixed mice.The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2010
D. H. O'Connor, N. G. Clack, D. Huber, T. Komiyama, E. W. Myers, and K. Svoboda The Journal of Neuroscience : The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30:1947-67 (2010)
Linking activity in specific cell types with perception, cognition, and action, requires quantitative behavioral experiments in genetic model systems such as the mouse. In head-fixed primates, the combination of precise stimulus control, monitoring of motor output, and physiological recordings over large numbers of trials are the foundation on which many conceptually rich and quantitative studies have been built. Choice-based, quantitative behavioral paradigms for head-fixed mice have not been described previously. Here, we report a somatosensory absolute object localization task for head-fixed mice. Mice actively used their mystacial vibrissae (whiskers) to sense the location of a vertical pole presented to one side of the head and reported with licking whether the pole was in a target (go) or a distracter (no-go) location. Mice performed hundreds of trials with high performance (>90% correct) and localized to <0.95 mm (<6 degrees of azimuthal angle). Learning occurred over 1-2 weeks and was observed both within and across sessions. Mice could perform object localization with single whiskers. Silencing barrel cortex abolished performance to chance levels. We measured whisker movement and shape for thousands of trials. Mice moved their whiskers in a highly directed, asymmetric manner, focusing on the target location. Translation of the base of the whiskers along the face contributed substantially to whisker movements. Mice tended to maximize contact with the go (rewarded) stimulus while minimizing contact with the no-go stimulus. We conjecture that this may amplify differences in evoked neural activity between trial types.
Cortical neurons form specific circuits, but the functional structure of this microarchitecture and its relation to behaviour are poorly understood. Two-photon calcium imaging can monitor activity of spatially defined neuronal ensembles in the mammalian cortex. Here we applied this technique to the motor cortex of mice performing a choice behaviour. Head-fixed mice were trained to lick in response to one of two odours, and to withhold licking for the other odour. Mice routinely showed significant learning within the first behavioural session and across sessions. Microstimulation and trans-synaptic tracing identified two non-overlapping candidate tongue motor cortical areas. Inactivating either area impaired voluntary licking. Imaging in layer 2/3 showed neurons with diverse response types in both areas. Activity in approximately half of the imaged neurons distinguished trial types associated with different actions. Many neurons showed modulation coinciding with or preceding the action, consistent with their involvement in motor control. Neurons with different response types were spatially intermingled. Nearby neurons (within approximately 150 mum) showed pronounced coincident activity. These temporal correlations increased with learning within and across behavioural sessions, specifically for neuron pairs with similar response types. We propose that correlated activity in specific ensembles of functionally related neurons is a signature of learning-related circuit plasticity. Our findings reveal a fine-scale and dynamic organization of the frontal cortex that probably underlies flexible behaviour.
Understanding cortical circuits will require mapping the connections between specific populations of neurons, as well as determining the dendritic locations where the synapses occur. The dendrites of individual cortical neurons overlap with numerous types of local and long-range excitatory axons, but axodendritic overlap is not always a good predictor of actual connection strength. Here we developed an efficient channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2)-assisted method to map the spatial distribution of synaptic inputs, defined by presynaptic ChR2 expression, within the dendritic arborizations of recorded neurons. We expressed ChR2 in two thalamic nuclei, the whisker motor cortex and local excitatory neurons and mapped their synapses with pyramidal neurons in layers 3, 5A and 5B (L3, L5A and L5B) in the mouse barrel cortex. Within the dendritic arborizations of L3 cells, individual inputs impinged onto distinct single domains. These domains were arrayed in an orderly, monotonic pattern along the apical axis: axons from more central origins targeted progressively higher regions of the apical dendrites. In L5 arborizations, different inputs targeted separate basal and apical domains. Input to L3 and L5 dendrites in L1 was related to whisker movement and position, suggesting that these signals have a role in controlling the gain of their target neurons. Our experiments reveal high specificity in the subcellular organization of excitatory circuits.