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A basal ganglia pathway drives selective auditory responses in songbird dopaminergic neurons via disinhibition

TitleA basal ganglia pathway drives selective auditory responses in songbird dopaminergic neurons via disinhibition
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of PublicationSubmitted
AuthorsGale SD, Perkel DJ
JournalJ Neurosci
ISBN Number1529-2401 (Electronic)0270-6474 (Linking)
KeywordsAcoustic Stimulation/methods, Serotonergic Neurons, Animals, Auditory Pathways/anatomy & histology/physiology, Basal Ganglia/*cytology, Discrimination (Psychology)/*physiology, Dopamine/*metabolism/pharmacology, Electric Stimulation/methods, Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists/pharmacology, Male, Finches/*anatomy & histology/physiology, gamma-Aminobutyric Acid/pharmacology, Neural Inhibition/drug effects/physiology, Neurons/drug effects/*physiology, Reaction Time/physiology, Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase/metabolism, Ventral Tegmental Area/cytology, Washington

Dopaminergic neurons in mammals respond to rewards and reward-predicting cues, and are thought to play an important role in learning actions or sensory cues that lead to reward. The anatomical sources of input that drive or modulate such responses are not well understood; these ultimately define the range of behavior to which dopaminergic neurons contribute. Primary rewards are not the immediate objective of all goal-directed behavior. For example, a goal of vocal learning is to imitate vocal-communication signals. Here, we demonstrate activation of dopaminergic neurons in songbirds driven by a basal ganglia region required for vocal learning, area X. Dopaminergic neurons in anesthetized zebra finches respond more strongly to the bird's own song (BOS) than to other sounds, and area X is critical for these responses. Direct pharmacological modulation of area X output, in the absence of auditory stimulation, is sufficient to bidirectionally modulate the firing rate of dopaminergic neurons. The only known pathway from song control regions to dopaminergic neurons involves a projection from area X to the ventral pallidum (VP), which in turn projects to dopaminergic regions. We show that VP neurons are spontaneously active and inhibited preferentially by BOS, suggesting that area X disinhibits dopaminergic neurons by inhibiting VP. Supporting this model, auditory-response latencies are shorter in area X than VP, and shorter in VP than dopaminergic neurons. Thus, dopaminergic neurons can be disinhibited selectively by complex sensory stimuli via input from the basal ganglia. The functional pathway we identify may allow dopaminergic neurons to contribute to vocal learning.