Study Finds Serotonin Boosts Neural Plasticity By Speeding Up Rate of Learning

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Kiyohito Iigaya PhD Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research University College London

Dr. Iigaya

Kiyohito Iigaya PhD
Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit and
Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research
University College London

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Serotonin (5-HT) is believed to play many important roles in cognitive processing, and past experiments have not crisply parsed them.

We developed a novel computational model of mice behavior that follows reinforcement learning principles, which are widely used in machine learning and AI research.

By applying this model to experimental data, we found that optogenetic 5-HT stimulation speeds up the learning rate in mice, but the effect was only apparent on select subset of choices.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Serotonin has been recognized as a major target of antidepressants (selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitor (SSRIs) that are used to treat various psychiatric conditions, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive-disorder and forms of anxiety.

Our results suggest that serotonin boosts neural plasticity by influencing the rate of learning. This resonates, for instance, with the fact that treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be more effective when combined with so-called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which encourages the breaking of habits (re-learning) in patients.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: The stimulated 5-HT neurons project to multiple brain areas where different types of 5-HT receptors coexist. Future studies are required to better understand how these various receptor types contribute to the brain’s learning mechanisms and how their role differs across brain structures. This could help motivate research into targeted interventions that are specific to receptor sub-types associated with various disorders.

Citation:

Kiyohito Iigaya, Madalena S. Fonseca, Masayoshi Murakami, Zachary F. Mainen, Peter Dayan. An effect of serotonergic stimulation on learning rates for rewards apparent after long intertrial intervals. Nature Communications, 2018; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04840-2

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