Whether picking up ingredients for dinner or crossing the street to get home, it’s all done with a goal in mind. Goal-directed behaviour uses a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, particularly cells called dopaminergic neurons. Bursts of activity in these neurons are key for goal-directed behaviour. Researchers studied mice to find out how this activity is controlled. They focused on another set of neurons from a part of the brain called the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN). These neurons release a signalling molecule called glutamate that activates proteins on other neurons called NMDA receptors, which are also involved in goal-directed behaviour. Fluorescent imaging of mouse brain slices (pictured) revealed that projections from PPN neurons (green) made contact with dopaminergic neurons (red). What’s more, stimulating bursts of activity in PPN neurons caused the same pattern of activity in dopaminergic neurons, revealing how a wider network of neurons may control goal-directed behaviour.
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