George Mason University
The basal ganglia is a collection of brain areas involved in normal learning and motor behavior as well as diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, and addiction. The striatum of the basal ganglia is a major site of learning and memory for goal directed actions and habit formation. Spiny projection neurons of the striatum integrate cortical, thalamic, and dopaminergic input to learn critical associations.
The tendency to relapse after withdrawal from addiction is partly due to the strong habits learned from the overly strong dopamine stimulation caused by drug use. In contrast, the death of dopamine neurons projecting to the striatum is the cause of Parkinson’s disease. Thus, understanding the role of dopamine in normal motor learning will also elucidate mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s and drug relapse. One mechanism used by striatal spiny projection neurons for learning and memory storage is synaptic plasticity.
I will discuss computational and experimental investigations on how dopamine and different patterns of synaptic input control the direction of synaptic plasticity, the signaling molecules involved in discriminating spatial and temporal patterns, and the extent of spatial specificity of synaptic plasticity.