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Changes in Appetitive Associative Strength and Reward Value Modulate the Intrinsic Excitability and Recruitment of Nucleus Accumbens Neuronal Ensembles

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Please note this talk will be online and in person, if you would like the Zoom link please email the organiser.There is a capacity of 50 people in the Psychology Lecture Theatre so attendees will be allowed entry on a first come first serve basis. There is a possibility that you will be refused entry once we have reached capacity.

Biography: Eisuke Koya is a Reader in Behavioural Neuroscience at the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, as well as a visiting investigator at Scripps Research in San Diego (USA). He obtained his BA in Neurobiology at the University of California at Berkeley. Afterwards, he obtained his PhD under the mentorship of Profs. Taco De Vries and Guus Smit at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (The Netherlands), where he investigated immediate early gene (IEG) expression patterns in corticostriatal brain areas during cue-induced drug and natural reward seeking behaviours using real-time quantitative PCR .

He then conducted his post-doctoral research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse Intramural Research Programme (NIDA IRP , Baltimore, USA ) under the mentorship of Drs. Yavin Shaham, Bruce Hope, and Carl Lupica. During this time, he investigated how sparse sets of activated neurons or ‘neuronal ensembles’ mediated learned associations between drug effects and the drug administration context and underwent unique synaptic adaptations. In 2012, he joined the School of Psychology as a Lecturer and was promoted to Reader (USA equivalent of associate professor) in 2018. Since 2015, he has been a visiting investigator at Dr. Nobuyoshi Suto’s laboratory at Scripps Research. His laboratory investigates how neuronal ensembles in motivationally-relevant brain areas such as the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex, establish, maintain, and update appetitive associations between food rewards and the cues that predict their availability. In particular, his lab is interested in how neuronal ensembles are recruited and undergo physiological (e.g. excitability) alterations during appetitive learning. To reveal these ensemble mechanisms, our lab utilises a range of neuroscientific tools such as in vivo fibre photometry and 2-P imaging, ex vivo electrophysiology and histological approaches.

Abstract: Both humans and animals need to respond appropriately to cues that predict the availability of food for nutrient procurement. For example, one may follow a sign leading to a fast food restaurant when driving while hungry or wild mice may follow sweet smells that lead them towards fragrant ripe berries. Such reactive actions to cues (‘cue reactivity’) depend on the brain’s ability to store and retrieve learned associations about food and its predictive cues. Such ‘food-cue’ associations form during Pavlovian conditioning. Although the brain areas implicated in food-cue associations have been well-characterised, the specific neuronal populations that help encode these associations have not been fully elucidated yet.

Animal research has allowed us to obtain better insight of the precise mechanisms behind how these associations are formed and established at the level individual neurons such as their activity patterns. They also allow the characterisation of how individual neurons undergo physiological changes such as changes in their electrical or ‘excitability’ properties, which are thought to be critical for information storage and retrieval. We and others have shown that cue-reward associations are encoded in specific patterns of activity from a population of sparsely distributed neurons, called ‘neuronal ensembles’ in brain areas implicated in reward, such as the nucleus accumbens. Here, I will discuss how factors such as the strength of food-cue associations and the rewarding value of food impact cue-evoked food-seeking and the underlying activity patterns and excitability properties of neuronal ensembles in the nucleus accumbens.

This talk is part of the Zangwill Club series.

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