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 Lab Head
Tsai-Wen Chen Research Staff
Diego Gutnisky Postdoctoral Associate
Aaron Kerlin Postdoctoral Associate
Nuo Li Postdoctoral Associate
Simon Peron Postdoctoral Associate
Nick Sofroniew Graduate Student
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.
Multiple new site-specific recombinases for use in manipulating animal genomes.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2011
A. Nern, B. D. Pfeiffer, K. Svoboda, and G. M. Rubin Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108:14198-203 (2011)
Site-specific recombinases have been used for two decades to manipulate the structure of animal genomes in highly predictable ways and have become major research tools. However, the small number of recombinases demonstrated to have distinct specificities, low toxicity, and sufficient activity to drive reactions to completion in animals has been a limitation. In this report we show that four recombinases derived from yeast-KD, B2, B3, and R-are highly active and nontoxic in Drosophila and that KD, B2, B3, and the widely used FLP recombinase have distinct target specificities. We also show that the KD and B3 recombinases are active in mice.
The functional properties of barrel cortex neurons projecting to the primary motor cortex.The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2010
T. R. Sato, and K. Svoboda The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30:4256-60 (2010)
Nearby neurons, sharing the same locations within the mouse whisker map, can have dramatically distinct response properties. To understand the significance of this diversity, we studied the relationship between the responses of individual neurons and their projection targets in the mouse barrel cortex. Neurons projecting to primary motor cortex (MI) or secondary somatosensory area (SII) were labeled with red fluorescent protein (RFP) using retrograde viral infection. We used in vivo two-photon Ca(2+) imaging to map the responses of RFP-positive and neighboring L2/3 neurons to whisker deflections. Neurons projecting to MI displayed larger receptive fields compared with other neurons, including those projecting to SII. Our findings support the view that intermingled neurons in primary sensory areas send specific stimulus features to different parts of the brain.
Structural plasticity underlies experience-dependent functional plasticity of cortical circuits.The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience 2010
L. Wilbrecht, A. Holtmaat, N. Wright, K. Fox, and K. Svoboda The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30:4927-32 (2010)
The stabilization of new spines in the barrel cortex is enhanced after whisker trimming, but its relationship to experience-dependent plasticity is unclear. Here we show that in wild-type mice, whisker potentiation and spine stabilization are most pronounced for layer 5 neurons at the border between spared and deprived barrel columns. In homozygote alphaCaMKII-T286A mice, which lack experience-dependent potentiation of responses to spared whiskers, there is no increase in new spine stabilization at the border between barrel columns after whisker trimming. Our data provide a causal link between new spine synapses and plasticity of adult cortical circuits and suggest that alphaCaMKII autophosphorylation plays a role in the stabilization but not formation of new spines.
The primary auditory cortex (A1) is organized tonotopically, with neurons sensitive to high and low frequencies arranged in a rostro-caudal gradient. We used laser scanning photostimulation in acute slices to study the organization of local excitatory connections onto layers 2 and 3 (L2/3) of the mouse A1. Consistent with the organization of other cortical regions, synaptic inputs along the isofrequency axis (orthogonal to the tonotopic axis) arose predominantly within a column. By contrast, we found that local connections along the tonotopic axis differed from those along the isofrequency axis: some input pathways to L3 (but not L2) arose predominantly out-of-column. In vivo cell-attached recordings revealed differences between the sound-responsiveness of neurons in L2 and L3. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that auditory cortical microcircuitry is specialized to the one-dimensional representation of frequency in the auditory cortex.
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.
Synaptic plasticity in adult neural circuits may involve the strengthening or weakening of existing synapses as well as structural plasticity, including synapse formation and elimination. Indeed, long-term in vivo imaging studies are beginning to reveal the structural dynamics of neocortical neurons in the normal and injured adult brain. Although the overall cell-specific morphology of axons and dendrites, as well as of a subpopulation of small synaptic structures, are remarkably stable, there is increasing evidence that experience-dependent plasticity of specific circuits in the somatosensory and visual cortex involves cell type-specific structural plasticity: some boutons and dendritic spines appear and disappear, accompanied by synapse formation and elimination, respectively. This Review focuses on recent evidence for such structural forms of synaptic plasticity in the mammalian cortex and outlines open questions.
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.
The distinct electrical properties of axonal and dendritic membranes are largely a result of specific transport of vesicle-bound membrane proteins to each compartment. How this specificity arises is unclear because kinesin motors that transport vesicles cannot autonomously distinguish dendritically projecting microtubules from those projecting axonally. We hypothesized that interaction with a second motor might enable vesicles containing dendritic proteins to preferentially associate with dendritically projecting microtubules and avoid those that project to the axon. Here we show that in rat cortical neurons, localization of several distinct transmembrane proteins to dendrites is dependent on specific myosin motors and an intact actin network. Moreover, fusion with a myosin-binding domain from Melanophilin targeted Channelrhodopsin-2 specifically to the somatodendritic compartment of neurons in mice in vivo. Together, our results suggest that dendritic transmembrane proteins direct the vesicles in which they are transported to avoid the axonal compartment through interaction with myosin motors.
Imaging neural activity in worms, flies and mice with improved GCaMP calcium indicators.Nature Methods 2009
L. Tian, A. S. Hires, T. Mao, D. Huber, E. M. Chiappe, S. H. Chalasani, L. Petreanu, J. Akerboom, S. A. McKinney, E. R. Schreiter, C. I. Bargmann, V. Jayaraman, K. Svoboda, and L. L. Looger Nature Methods, 6:875-81 (2009)
Genetically encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) can be used to image activity in defined neuronal populations. However, current GECIs produce inferior signals compared to synthetic indicators and recording electrodes, precluding detection of low firing rates. We developed a single-wavelength GCaMP2-based GECI (GCaMP3), with increased baseline fluorescence (3-fold), increased dynamic range (3-fold) and higher affinity for calcium (1.3-fold). We detected GCaMP3 fluorescence changes triggered by single action potentials in pyramidal cell dendrites, with signal-to-noise ratio and photostability substantially better than those of GCaMP2, D3cpVenus and TN-XXL. In Caenorhabditis elegans chemosensory neurons and the Drosophila melanogaster antennal lobe, sensory stimulation-evoked fluorescence responses were significantly enhanced with GCaMP3 (4-6-fold). In somatosensory and motor cortical neurons in the intact mouse, GCaMP3 detected calcium transients with amplitudes linearly dependent on action potential number. Long-term imaging in the motor cortex of behaving mice revealed large fluorescence changes in imaged neurons over months.
Genetically-encoded calcium indicators (GECIs) hold the promise of monitoring [Ca(2+)] in selected populations of neurons and in specific cellular compartments. Relating GECI fluorescence to neuronal activity requires quantitative characterization. We have characterized a promising new genetically-encoded calcium indicator-GCaMP2-in mammalian pyramidal neurons. Fluorescence changes in response to single action potentials (17+/-10% DeltaF/F [mean+/-SD]) could be detected in some, but not all, neurons. Trains of high-frequency action potentials yielded robust responses (302+/-50% for trains of 40 action potentials at 83 Hz). Responses were similar in acute brain slices from in utero electroporated mice, indicating that long-term expression did not interfere with GCaMP2 function. Membrane-targeted versions of GCaMP2 did not yield larger signals than their non-targeted counterparts. We further targeted GCaMP2 to dendritic spines to monitor Ca(2+) accumulations evoked by activation of synaptic NMDA receptors. We observed robust DeltaF/F responses (range: 37%-264%) to single spine uncaging stimuli that were correlated with NMDA receptor currents measured through a somatic patch pipette. One major drawback of GCaMP2 was its low baseline fluorescence. Our results show that GCaMP2 is improved from the previous versions of GCaMP and may be suited to detect bursts of high-frequency action potentials and synaptic currents in vivo.
The functions of cortical areas depend on their inputs and outputs, but the detailed circuits made by long-range projections are unknown. We show that the light-gated channel channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) is delivered to axons in pyramidal neurons in vivo. In brain slices from ChR2-expressing mice, photostimulation of ChR2-positive axons can be transduced reliably into single action potentials. Combining photostimulation with whole-cell recordings of synaptic currents makes it possible to map circuits between presynaptic neurons, defined by ChR2 expression, and postsynaptic neurons, defined by targeted patching. We applied this technique, ChR2-assisted circuit mapping (CRACM), to map long-range callosal projections from layer (L) 2/3 of the somatosensory cortex. L2/3 axons connect with neurons in L5, L2/3 and L6, but not L4, in both ipsilateral and contralateral cortex. In both hemispheres the L2/3-to-L5 projection is stronger than the L2/3-to-L2/3 projection. Our results suggest that laminar specificity may be identical for local and long-range cortical projections.
Long-term potentiation (LTP) of synaptic transmission underlies aspects of learning and memory. LTP is input-specific at the level of individual synapses, but neural network models predict interactions between plasticity at nearby synapses. Here we show in mouse hippocampal pyramidal cells that LTP at individual synapses reduces the threshold for potentiation at neighbouring synapses. After input-specific LTP induction by two-photon glutamate uncaging or by synaptic stimulation, subthreshold stimuli, which by themselves were too weak to trigger LTP, caused robust LTP and spine enlargement at neighbouring spines. Furthermore, LTP induction broadened the presynaptic-postsynaptic spike interval for spike-timing-dependent LTP within a dendritic neighbourhood. The reduction in the threshold for LTP induction lasted approximately 10 min and spread over approximately 10 microm of dendrite. These local interactions between neighbouring synapses support clustered plasticity models of memory storage and could allow for the binding of behaviourally linked information on the same dendritic branch.