Rats and men: Study finds parallels in neural processing of 'adaptive control'

Low-frequency brainwaves in the human medial frontal cortex change from low-power (blue) to high-power (red-orange) after the recognition of a mistake. Credit: Frank Lab/Brown University

People and rats may think alike when they've made a mistake and are trying to adjust their thinking.

That's the conclusion of a study published online Oct. 20 in Nature Neuroscience that tracked specific similarities in how human and rodent subjects adapted to errors as they performed a simple time estimation task. When members of either species made a mistake in the trials, electrode recordings showed that they employed low-frequency brainwaves in the (MFC) of the brain to synchronize neurons in their motor cortex. That action correlated with subsequent performance improvements on the task.

"These findings suggest that neuronal activity in the MFC encodes information that is involved in monitoring performance and could influence the control of response adjustments by the motor cortex," wrote the authors, who performed the research at Brown University and Yale University.

The importance of the findings extends beyond a basic understanding of cognition, because they suggest that rat models could be a useful analog for humans in studies of how such "adaptive control" neural mechanics are compromised in psychiatric diseases.

"With this rat model of adaptive control, we are now able to examine if novel drugs or other treatment procedures boost the integrity of this system," said James Cavanagh, a co-lead author of the paper who was at Brown when the research was done and has since become an Assistant Professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. "This may have clear translational potential for treating psychiatric diseases such as , depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia"

To conduct the study, the researchers measured external brainwaves of human and rodent subjects after both erroneous and accurate performance on the time estimation task. They also measured the activity of individual neurons in the MFC and motor cortex of the rats in both post-error and post-correct circumstances.

The scientists also gave the rats a drug that blocked activity of the MFC. What they saw in those rats compared to rats who didn't get the drug, was that the low-frequency waves did not occur in the , neurons there did not fire coherently and the rats did not alter their subsequent behavior on the task.

Although the researchers were able to study the cognitive mechanisms in the in more detail than in humans, the direct parallels they saw in the neural mechanics of adaptive control were significant.

"Low-frequency oscillations facilitate synchronization among brain networks for representing and exerting adaptive control, including top-down regulation of behavior in the mammalian brain," they wrote.

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.3549

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JVK
not rated yet Oct 20, 2013
Rats are primarily olfactory creatures but humans supposedly are not. If humans are not primarily olfactory creatures, how can the 'clear' translational potential for treating psychiatric diseases based on findings in rats be realized? What's clear is that either the molecular mechanisms of neurological diseases are the same in all mammals, or this research has no translational potential. So what, pray tell, do rats and humans have in common? Could it be nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive behaviors as is common to every other species on this planet? If so, we could begin to examine how the epigenetic effects of olfactory/pheromonal input in rats translates to treatment in humans.
Fabio P_
not rated yet Oct 23, 2013
@JVK: You really are a broken record, aren't you? You know what would be a much more effective way of convincing people? Carry out your research, and publish your findings in a reputable scientific publication. Until then, your assertion that olfaction is the core sensory modality underlying cognition - and, by extension, cognitive deficits - is nothing but nonsense. If that were the case, people with non-neurological anosmia would display stark cognitive abnormalities.