Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Human learning altered by electrical stimulation of dopamine neurons

Date:
May 13, 2014
Source:
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Summary:
Stimulation of a certain population of neurons within the brain can alter the learning process, according to a team of neuroscientists and neurosurgeons. A new report describes for the first time that human learning can be modified by stimulation of dopamine-containing neurons in a deep brain structure known as the substantia nigra.

Rendering of neurons (stock illustration).
Credit: Sergey Nivens / Fotolia

Stimulation of a certain population of neurons within the brain can alter the learning process, according to a team of neuroscientists and neurosurgeons at the University of Pennsylvania. A report in the Journal of Neuroscience describes for the first time that human learning can be modified by stimulation of dopamine-containing neurons in a deep brain structure known as the substantia nigra. Researchers suggest that the stimulation may have altered learning by biasing individuals to repeat physical actions that resulted in reward.

"Stimulating the substantia nigra as participants received a reward led them to repeat the action that preceded the reward, suggesting that this brain region plays an important role in modulating action-based associative learning," said co-senior author Michael Kahana, PhD, professor of Psychology in Penn's School of Arts and Sciences.

Eleven study participants were all undergoing deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment for Parkinson's disease. During an awake portion of the procedure, participants played a computer game where they chose between pairs of objects that carried different reward rates (like choosing between rigged slot machines in a casino). The objects were displayed on a computer screen and participants made selections by pressing buttons on hand-held controllers. When they got a reward, they were shown a green screen and heard a sound of a cash register (as they might in a casino). Participants were not told which objects were more likely to yield reward, but that their task was to figure out which ones were "good" options based on trial and error.

When stimulation was provided in the substantia nigra following reward, participants tended to repeat the button press that resulted in a reward. This was the case even when the rewarded object was no longer associated with that button press, resulting in poorer performance on the game when stimulation was given (48 percent accuracy), compared to when stimulation was not given (67 percent).

"While we've suspected, based on previous studies in animal models, that these dopaminergic neurons in the substainia nigra -- play an important role in reward learning, this is the first study to demonstrate in humans that electrical stimulation near these neurons can modify the learning process," said the study's co-senior author Gordon Baltuch, MD, PhD, professor of Neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "This result also has possible clinical implications through modulating pathological reward-based learning, for conditions such as substance abuse or problem gambling, or enhancing the rehabilitation process in patients with neurological deficits."

The research team included lead study author Ashwin Ramayya, a Neuroscience MD/PhD student at Penn, along with Amrit Misra from Drexel University. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (MH55687).


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Human learning altered by electrical stimulation of dopamine neurons." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513175006.htm>.
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. (2014, May 13). Human learning altered by electrical stimulation of dopamine neurons. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513175006.htm
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "Human learning altered by electrical stimulation of dopamine neurons." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140513175006.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
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:
from the past week

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