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Current Opinion in Neurobiology

Ana G Pereira, Marta A Moita
Avoiding or escaping a predator is arguably one of the most important functions of a prey's brain, hence of most animals' brains. Studies on fear conditioning have greatly advanced our understanding of the circuits that regulate learned defensive behaviours. However, animals possess a multitude of threat detection mechanisms, from hardwired circuits that ensure innate responses to predator cues, to the use of social information. Surprisingly, only more recently have these circuits captured the attention of a wider range of researchers working on different species and behavioural paradigms...
October 14, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Tamar Flash, Emilio Bizzi
Here we review recent studies of the cortical circuits subserving the control of posture and movement. This topic is addressed from neurophysiological and evolutionary perspectives describing recent advancements achieved through experimental studies in humans and non-human primates. We also describe current debates and controversies concerning motor mapping within the motor cortex and the different computational approaches aimed at resolving the mystery around motor representations and computations. In recent years there is growing interest in the possibly modular organization of motor representations and dynamical processes and the potential of such studies to provide new clues into motor information processing...
October 10, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
David J Schulz, Brian J Lane
Plasticity of excitability can come in two general forms: changes in excitability that alter neuronal output (e.g. long-term potentiation of intrinsic excitability) or excitability changes that stabilize neuronal output (homeostatic plasticity). Here we discuss the latter form of plasticity in the context of the crustacean stomatogastric nervous system, and a second central pattern generator circuit, the cardiac ganglion. We discuss this plasticity at three levels: rapid homeostatic changes in membrane conductance, longer-term effects of neuromodulation on excitability, and the impacts of activity-dependent feedback on steady-state channel mRNA levels...
October 6, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Carlo Ng Giachello, Richard A Baines
Stability of neural circuits is reliant on homeostatic mechanisms that return neuron activity towards pre-determined and physiologically appropriate levels. Without these mechanisms, changes due to synaptic plasticity, ageing and disease may push neural circuits towards instability. Whilst widely documented, understanding of how and when neurons determine an appropriate activity level, the so-called set-point, remains unknown. Genetically tractable model systems have greatly contributed to our understanding of neuronal homeostasis and continue to offer attractive models to explore these additional questions...
October 6, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Sanjay P Sane
Miniature insects can be as small as a few hundred micrometres in size, making them among the smallest metazoan animals ever described. Yet, even at these length scales, they display remarkably sophisticated flight behaviours. For flight at such low Reynolds numbers, miniature insects have evolved biomechanical and neural adaptations that push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of physics and neurobiology of flight. After several decades of relative dormancy, this question has recently been revisited by researchers working in diverse areas ranging from systematics and neurobiology to dispersal behaviours...
October 4, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Martin Y Peek, Gwyneth M Card
Neural circuits mediating visually evoked escape behaviors are promising systems in which to dissect the neural basis of behavior. Behavioral responses to predator-like looming stimuli, and their underlying neural computations, are remarkably similar across species. Recently, genetic tools have been applied in this classical paradigm, revealing novel non-cortical pathways that connect loom processing to defensive behaviors in mammals and demonstrating that loom encoding models from locusts also fit vertebrate neural responses...
October 3, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Patsy S Dickinson, Xuan Qu, Meredith E Stanhope
Central pattern generators are subject to modulation by peptides, allowing for flexibility in patterned output. Current techniques used to characterize peptides include mass spectrometry and transcriptomics. In recent years, hundreds of neuropeptides have been sequenced from crustaceans; mass spectrometry has been used to identify peptides and to determine their levels and locations, setting the stage for comparative studies investigating the physiological roles of peptides. Such studies suggest that there is some evolutionary conservation of function, but also divergence of function even within a species...
September 29, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Sophie Rengarajan, Elissa A Hallem
Over one billion people worldwide are infected with parasitic nematodes. Many parasitic nematodes actively search for hosts to infect using volatile chemical cues, so understanding the olfactory signals that drive host seeking may elucidate new pathways for preventing infections. The free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a powerful model for parasitic nematodes: because sensory neuroanatomy is conserved across nematode species, an understanding of the microcircuits that mediate olfaction in C. elegans may inform studies of olfaction in parasitic nematodes...
September 23, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Jeremy E Niven
Electrical and chemical signaling within and between neurons consumes energy. Recent studies have sought to refine our understanding of the processes that consume energy and their relationship to information processing by coupling experiments with computational models and energy budgets. These studies have produced insights into both how neurons and neural circuits function, and why they evolved to function in the way they do.
September 21, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Paloma T Gonzalez-Bellido, Samuel T Fabian, Karin Nordström
Motion vision provides important cues for many tasks. Flying insects, for example, may pursue small, fast moving targets for mating or feeding purposes, even when these are detected against self-generated optic flow. Since insects are small, with size-constrained eyes and brains, they have evolved to optimize their optical, neural and behavioral target visualization solutions. Indeed, even if evolutionarily distant insects display different pursuit strategies, target neuron physiology is strikingly similar...
September 20, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Daniel Tomsic
Motion vision originated during the Cambrian explosion more than 500 million years ago, likely triggered by the race for earliest detection between preys and predators. To successfully evade a predator's attack a prey must react quickly and reliably, which imposes a common constrain to the implementation of escape responses among different species. Thus, neural circuits subserving fast escape responses are usually straightforward and contain giant neurons. This review summarizes knowledge about a small group of motion-sensitive giant neurons thought to be central in guiding the escape performance of crabs to visual stimuli...
September 20, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Dominique A Glauser, Miriam B Goodman
Adapting behavior to thermal cues is essential for animal growth and survival. Indeed, each and every biological and biochemical process is profoundly affected by temperature and its extremes can cause irreversible damage. Hence, animals have developed thermotransduction mechanisms to detect and encode thermal information in the nervous system and acclimation mechanisms to finely tune their response over different timescales. While temperature-gated TRP channels are the best described class of temperature sensors, recent studies highlight many new candidates, including ionotropic and metabotropic receptors...
September 19, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Almut Kelber
Colour vision-the ability to discriminate spectral differences irrespective of variations in intensity-has two basic requirements: (1) photoreceptors with different spectral sensitivities, and (2) neural comparison of signals from these photoreceptors. Major progress has been made understanding the evolution of the basic stages of colour vision-opsin pigments, screening pigments, and the first neurons coding chromatic opponency, and similarities between mammals and insects point to general mechanisms. However, much work is still needed to unravel full colour pathways in various animals...
September 17, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Lidia Szczupak
Intercellular interactions in the nervous system are mediated by two types of dedicated structural arrangements: electrical and chemical synapses. Several characteristics distinguish these two mechanisms of communication, such as speed, reliability and the fact that electrical synapses are, potentially, bidirectional. Given these properties, electrical synapses can subserve, in addition to synchrony, three main interrelated network functions: signal amplification, noise reduction and/or coincidence detection...
September 17, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Geraldine A Wright
To feed or not to feed is a dilemma faced by every animal. The sense of taste is fundamental to the control of food intake. It permits recognition of nutrients, the rejection of toxins, and provides feedback for the coordination of feeding. The suboesophageal zone of the insect brain uses taste information to orchestrate the motor programs responsible for mouthparts coordination during feeding. Discovering the structure of the relevant neural circuits is a work in progress.
September 17, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Melville J Wohlgemuth, Jinhong Luo, Cynthia F Moss
Echolocating bats exhibit accurate three-dimensional (3D) auditory localization to avoid obstacles and intercept prey. The bat achieves high spatial resolution through a biological sonar system. Key features of the bat's sonar system are (1) high frequency, directional echolocation signals; (2) high frequency hearing; (3) mobile ears; and (4) measurement of distance from the time delay between sonar emission and echo reception. The bat's sonar receiver is a standard mammalian auditory system that computes azimuth from inter-aural differences and elevation from spectral filtering by the ear [1-3]...
August 31, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Ronald L Calabrese, Brian J Norris, Angela Wenning
The neurogenic heartbeat of certain invertebrates has long been studied both as a way of understanding how automatic functions are regulated and for how neuronal networks generate the inherent rhythmic activity that controls and coordinates this vital function. This review focuses on the heartbeat of decapod crustaceans and hirudinid leeches, which remain important experimental systems for the exploration of central pattern generator networks, their properties, network and cellular mechanisms, modulation, and how animal-to-animal variation in neuronal and network properties are managed to produce functional output...
August 30, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Elizabeth C Cropper, Andrew M Dacks, Klaudiusz R Weiss
Often distinct elements serve similar functions within a network. However, it is unclear whether this network degeneracy is beneficial, or merely a reflection of tighter regulation of overall network performance relative to individual neuronal properties. We review circumstances where data strongly suggest that degeneracy is beneficial in that it makes network function more robust. Importantly, network degeneracy is likely to have functional consequences that are not widely appreciated. This is likely to be true when network activity is configured by modulators with persistent actions, and the history of network activity potentially impacts subsequent functioning...
August 30, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Jan-Marino Ramirez, Tatiana Dashevskiy, Ibis Agosto Marlin, Nathan Baertsch
Rhythmicity is critical for the generation of rhythmic behaviors and higher brain functions. This review discusses common mechanisms of rhythm generation, including the role of synaptic inhibition and excitation, with a focus on the mammalian respiratory network. This network generates three phases of breathing and is highly integrated with brain regions associated with numerous non-ventilatory behaviors. We hypothesize that during evolution multiple rhythmogenic microcircuits were recruited to accommodate the generation of each breathing phase...
August 30, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
Monika Stengl, Andreas Arendt
Circadian clocks control physiology and behavior of organisms in synchrony with external light dark cycles in changing photoperiods. The Madeira cockroach Rhyparobia maderae was the first model organism in which an endogenous circadian clock in the brain was identified. About 240 neurons constitute the cockroach circadian pacemaker network in the accessory medulla. The expression of high concentrations of neuropeptides, among them the most prominent circadian coupling factor pigment-dispersing factor, as well as their ability to generate endogenous ultradian and circadian rhythms in electrical activity and clock gene expression distinguish these pacemaker neurons...
August 27, 2016: Current Opinion in Neurobiology
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