Plasticity of Brain Cells Helps in Flexible Decision Making

Thinking and Learning in the Digital Age

Humans are attributed with constant adaptability. A team of researchers at the Brain Research Institute of the University of Zurich elucidates neuron, situated in brain region, assist in guiding adaptive behavior. These findings reveal better understanding of flexible decision making in health individuals.

The research is first to take steps towards elucidating the underlying mechanisms, published in the scientific journal Nature, demonstrating the orbitofrontal cortex in region of cerebral cortex located behind the eyes, reprogrammed neurons to help in decision making.

With the new virtual reality, greetings and salutations are deemed harmful. Therefore, it is imperative to have a better understanding of neurons contribution in behavioral adaptability. Moreover, these research findings may help in elucidating the mechanism involved in poor decisions making in individuals sick with numerous nervous disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Poor adaptability significantly affects the personal as well as professional quality of life. According to CDC, nearly 44.7 million US adults aged 18 or older reported any mental illness in 2016 and over 71% of adults reported at least one symptom of stress including headache and anxiety because of poor mental health. It significantly affects the job performance and productivity. CDC states that anxiety interferes with ability of a person to perform a job, reducing 355 of its cognitive performance.

Source: AMD

The research team used a mouse model, subjected it towards a simulated relearning process under controlled conditions. Later the subsequent effects on relearning on brain was investigated.

Initially mouse was trained to lick every time someone touched a strip of coarse-grit sandpaper with their whiskers. Once it responded accordingly, he learned to get rewards with a drink of sucrose water. Similarly, when someone brushed their whiskers against fine-grain sandpaper; mouse was trained to not lick. If they do so, they were taught to get punished with a mild irritating noise. Once the mice understood how to perform their task, the tables were then turned.

Then molecular biological and imaging techniques were used to assess the function of individual neurons in the brain cortices involved.

It was found that the adaptive behavior critically relies on flexible decision-making, which in humans depends on the neurons in brain region called frontal cortex, specifically the orbitofrontal cortex. Their analysis showed that a group of neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex is particularly active during the relearning process. These brains cells exhibit long axons, a signaling fibers that extends and ends in the sensory area in mice that processes tactile stimuli.

“It has long been known that the orbitofrontal cortex is involved in decision-making processes. It is in charge, to a certain degree, of enabling us to react appropriately and successfully to exogenous circumstances. But the neural circuits underlying this function were unknown until now,” says Abhishek Banerjee, lead author of the study, now an Associate Professor at Newcastle University, UK.

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