Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Two brain circuits involved with habitual learning

Date:
June 10, 2010
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
Driving to and from work is a habit for most commuters -- we do it without really thinking. But before our commutes became routine, we had to learn our way through trial-and-error exploration. A new study has found that there are two brain circuits involved with this kind of learning and that the patterns of activity in these circuits evolve as our behaviors become more habitual.

Rats exhibit different patterns of neural activity in the dorsolateral and dorsomedial parts of the striatum while learning to navigate a maze. Dorsolateral striatal neurons are most active (red) when the rat performs specific actions like starting, turning, and stopping. Dorsomedial striatal neurons are most active when the rat is deciding which way to turn, but this activity declines over time as the rat masters the task.
Credit: Catherine Thorn/MIT

Driving to and from work is a habit for most commuters - we do it without really thinking. But before our commutes became routine, we had to learn our way through trial-and-error exploration. A new study out of MIT has found that there are two brain circuits involved with this kind of learning and that the patterns of activity in these circuits evolve as our behaviors become more habitual.

Related Articles


The researchers focused on the basal ganglia, brain structures that are best known for their role in movement control, but which are also involved in emotion, cognition and reward-based learning.

These different functions are thought to reside in different parts of basal ganglia. The dorsolateral part of the striatum (the input side of the basal ganglia) controls movement and is connected to the sensorimotor cortex, while the dorsomedial striatum controls flexible behavior and is connected to higher areas known as association cortex. But it has not been clear how these distinct circuits contribute to the learning of new behaviors.

Now for first time, researchers at MIT have recorded the activity of these two circuits in rats as they learned to navigate a maze, and found that the circuits have distinct patterns of activity that evolve during the course of learning.

The team led by Ann Graybiel, a MIT Institute Professor and member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, recorded the activity of thousands of neurons in the striatum as rats learned to find a cache of chocolate sprinkles at the end of a maze. As they approached a T-junction in the maze, the rats had to decide whether to turn right or left. The correct direction was indicated by a sound or a touch cue, the meaning of which the rats had to discover through trial-and-error. And just like human commuters, the rats performed this over and over again until the correct choice became routine.

As the rats' performance improved with repetition, the two different striatal circuits showed distinct patterns of activity. The dorsolateral striatal neurons were most active at the specific action points within the maze (start, stop, turn etc) and this pattern became steadily stronger with practice. The dorsomedial neurons, by contrast, showed highest activity around the decision period -- when the rat experienced the cue and had to decide which way to turn. These neurons were also most active as the rats were learning, and their activity declined in later trials once the rats had mastered the task.

"We think the two basal ganglionic circuits must work in parallel," said Catherine Thorn, first author of the study. "We see what looks like competition between the two circuits until the learned behavior becomes ingrained as a habit."

"These brain circuits are affected in Parkinson's disease, substance abuse and many psychiatric disorders," says Graybiel. "If we can learn how to tilt the competition in one direction or the other, we might help bring new focus to existing therapies, and possibly aid in the development of new therapies." But in terms of every day life, Graybiel adds, "it is good to know that we can train our brains to develop good habits and avoid bad ones."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thorn CA, Atallah H, Howe M, Graybiel AM. Differential dynamics of activity changes in dorsolateral and dorsomedial striatal loops during learning. Neuron, 10 June 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.04.036

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Two brain circuits involved with habitual learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100609122830.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2010, June 10). Two brain circuits involved with habitual learning. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100609122830.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Two brain circuits involved with habitual learning." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100609122830.htm (accessed December 17, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Yoga Could Be As Beneficial For The Heart As Walking, Biking

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) Yoga can help your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and heart just as much as biking and walking does, a new study suggests. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

1st Responders Trained for Autism Sensitivity

AP (Dec. 16, 2014) More departments are ordering their first responders to sit in on training sessions that focus on how to more effectively interact with those with autism spectrum disorder (Dec. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Guys Are Idiots, According To Sarcastic Study

Newsy (Dec. 12, 2014) A study out of Britain suggest men are more idiotic than women based on the rate of accidental deaths and other factors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

Believing in Father Christmas Good for Children's Imaginations

AFP (Dec. 12, 2014) As the countdown to Christmas gets underway, so too does the Father Christmas conspiracy. But psychologists say that telling our children about Santa, flying reindeer and elves is good for their imaginations. Duration: 01:57 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins