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Volume 20 Issue 7, July 2017

Zebra finches learn to sing by copying a tutor song. Roberts, Hisey and their colleagues show that a pathway in the zebra finch brain that connects the song motor nucleus HVC to Field Avalanche, a part of the auditory system, is critical to song learning. Image: a flock of zebra finches fleeing an avalanche. Credit: Jason Wu, Duke Universityp 978

News & Views

  • The checkpoint pathway consisting of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) and its receptor, PD-1, modulates immune function in cancer and infection, but unexpectedly, it also silences pain signals in nerves.

    • Michael Hirth
    • Jagadeesh Gandla
    • Rohini Kuner
    News & Views


  • Disruption of retinal direction selectivity reveals both peripheral and central computations contributing to direction selectivity in mouse visual cortex. These mechanisms work together to better encode motion directions and speeds.

    • Qi Fang
    • Huizhong W Tao
    News & Views
  • Most thalamic research has focused on sensory transmission. Now three independent groups reveal the thalamus to be critical in behaviors linked to frontal cortex and the maintenance of persistent cortical activity during delays.

    • László Acsády
    News & Views
  • A computational model explains how memories of past rewards guide value-based choices. Incorporating behavioral and functional MRI evidence, the findings indicate that 'sampling' from individual memories of past rewards influences choices.

    • Brice A Kuhl
    • Nicole M Long
    News & Views
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  • The authors show that in a mouse model of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), there is a reduction in sensory synaptic drive that leads to motor neuron dysfunction and motor behavior impairments. SMA motor neurons showed a lower surface expression of Kv2.1 potassium channels and reduced spiking ability. Increasing neuronal activity pharmacologically led to the normalization of Kv2.1 surface expression and an improvement in motor function.

    • Emily V Fletcher
    • Christian M Simon
    • George Z Mentis
  • The authors identify programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1), an immunity suppressor produced by cancer cells, as a new pain inhibitor and a neuromodulator. They report that PD-L1 is produced by melanoma and normal neural tissues and that it inhibits acute and chronic pain. Via activation of PD-1, its receptor, PD-L1 decreases the excitability of nociceptive neurons in mouse and human dorsal root ganglia.

    • Gang Chen
    • Yong Ho Kim
    • Ru-Rong Ji
  • The authors find that mammalian acid-sensing taste receptor cells, previously shown to be putative sour taste sensors, also mediate responses to water. Optogenetic activation of this population of cells in thirsty mice induced robust drinking response in the absence of water. This study shows that acid-sensing TRCs contribute to the detection of water in the oral cavity.

    • Dhruv Zocchi
    • Gunther Wennemuth
    • Yuki Oka
  • The authors provide evidence that a cerebellum-like structure at the initial stage of mammalian auditory processing (the dorsal cochlear nucleus) functions to cancel out self-generated sounds. A similar function has been established for cerebellum-like structures in electroreceptive fish, suggesting a conserved function for these structures across vertebrates.

    • Shobhit Singla
    • Conor Dempsey
    • Nathaniel B Sawtell
  • The authors establish a critical role for somatostatin interneurons in visually induced gamma oscillations in the primary visual cortex of mice. Optogenetic manipulations in awake animals, combined with an innovative computational model with multiple interneuron subtypes, provide a mechanism for the synchronization of neural firing across the retinotopic map.

    • Julia Veit
    • Richard Hakim
    • Hillel Adesnik
  • The authors monitored neuronal activity in mouse visual cortex during visual-motion stimulation and perturbed retinal direction selectivity. After perturbation, the proportion of posterior-motion-preferring cortical cells decreased, and their response at higher stimulus speeds was reduced. Thus, functionally distinct, retina-dependent and retina-independent computations of visual motion exist in mouse cortex.

    • Daniel Hillier
    • Michele Fiscella
    • Botond Roska
  • Attention changes correlations between neuronal responses. In this study, Verhoef and Maunsell use multielectrode recordings in monkeys to reveal a link between normalization mechanisms, correlated neuronal activity and attention. The findings show that normalization mechanisms shape response correlations and that these correlations change when attention biases normalization mechanisms.

    • Bram-Ernst Verhoef
    • John H R Maunsell
  • Although vocal learning is widely speculated to depend on motor to auditory (i.e., forward) pathways, the neurons that convey forward signals important to vocal learning remain unknown. Here the authors identify neurons that transmit signals from songbird motor to auditory regions and demonstrate their role in vocal learning.

    • Todd F Roberts
    • Erin Hisey
    • Richard Mooney
  • Using pathway-specific optogenetic inhibition, the authors demonstrate that projections from the mediodorsal thalamus to prefrontal cortex support the maintenance of working memory, while prefrontal–thalamic projections support subsequent choice selection. Thalamo–prefrontal projections have a circuit-specific role in sustaining prefrontal delay-period activity, a neuronal signature required for successful task performance.

    • Scott S Bolkan
    • Joseph M Stujenske
    • Christoph Kellendonk
  • The authors demonstrate that decisions for reward can have more a complicated dependence on past experiences than previously believed. Previous models describe decisions as influenced by rewards received in similar situations. Here the authors show that experiences that share only incidental features can also reemerge to bias present choices.

    • Aaron M Bornstein
    • Kenneth A Norman
  • To unravel structural regularities in neocortical networks, Gal et al. analyzed a biologically constrained model of a neocortical microcircuit. Using extended graph theory, they found multiple cell-type-specific wiring features, including small-word and rich-club topologies that might contribute to the large repertoire of computations performed by the neocortex.

    • Eyal Gal
    • Michael London
    • Idan Segev


  • Brain function relies on flexible communication between cortical regions. It has been proposed that changing patterns of oscillatory coherence underlie information routing. However, oscillations in vivo are very irregular. This study shows that short-lived and stochastic oscillatory bursts coordinate across areas to selectively modulate interareal communication.

    • Agostina Palmigiano
    • Theo Geisel
    • Demian Battaglia


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Technical Report

  • No techniques exist for the precise identification of vascular pericytes. Here the authors identify and characterize a fluorescent dye that exclusively labels pericytes. Using this tool for intravital imaging of the mouse brain, the authors provide conclusive evidence that these cells are molecularly and functionally distinct from all other brain and vascular cells.

    • Eyiyemisi C Damisah
    • Robert A Hill
    • Jaime Grutzendler
    Technical Report
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