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J Neurosci. 2013 Jul 10;33(28):11668-76. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4783-12.2013.

Direct-pathway striatal neurons regulate the retention of decision-making strategies.

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Center for Integrative Brain Research, Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle, WA 98101, USA.


The dorsal striatum has been implicated in reward-based decision making, but the role played by specific striatal circuits in these processes is essentially unknown. Using cell phenotype-specific viral vectors to express engineered G-protein-coupled DREADD (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs) receptors, we enhanced Gi/o- or Gs-protein-mediated signaling selectively in direct-pathway (striatonigral) neurons of the dorsomedial striatum in Long-Evans rats during discrete periods of training of a high versus low reward-discrimination task. Surprisingly, these perturbations had no impact on reward preference, task performance, or improvement of performance during training. However, we found that transiently increasing Gi/o signaling during training significantly impaired the retention of task strategies used to maximize reward obtainment during subsequent preference testing, whereas increasing Gs signaling produced the opposite effect and significantly enhanced the encoding of a high-reward preference in this decision-making task. Thus, the fact that the endurance of this improved performance was significantly altered over time-long after these neurons were manipulated-indicates that it is under bidirectional control of canonical G-protein-mediated signaling in striatonigral neurons during training. These data demonstrate that cAMP-dependent signaling in direct-pathway neurons play a well-defined role in reward-related behavior; that is, they modulate the plasticity required for the retention of task-specific information that is used to improve performance on future renditions of the task.

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