Friday, January 20, 2012

Reinforcing Behavior in the Brain

Harvard scientists have developed the fullest picture yet of how neurons in the brain interact to reinforce behaviors ranging from learning to drug use, a finding that might open the door to possible breakthroughs in the treatment of addiction. The finding is the result of a year-long effort by a team of researchers led by associate professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Naoshige Uchida to examine a brain process known as reward prediction error. Thought to be a key component of learning, prediction error was long believed to be the product of dopamine neurons firing in response to an unexpected "reward," thus reinforcing the behavior that led to the reward. But Uchida and colleagues from Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center report in the Jan. 18 issue of Nature that reward prediction error is actually the product of a complex interplay between two classes of neurons – one that relies on dopamine and an inhibitory class of neuron that uses the neurotransmitter GABA. more

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