Kim (Avrama) Blackwell, Ph.D.
George Mason University, Department of Bioengineering
Student Union I - Room 3B
September 13, 2018
12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Topic: How Do Striatal Neurons Learn and Store Memories?
Abstract: Parkinson's Disease, normal habit learning, and addiction are related by the role of a critical molecule called Dopamine. The association of reward (which triggers dopamine in the brain) with prior actions or context produces goal-directed learning, but with repetition the learned behavior becomes habitual or independent of reward. In contrast, the absence of dopamine produces motor deficits. The striatum is a part of the brain involved in learning and memory for goal directed actions and habit formation. Spiny projection neurons of the striatum integrate cortical, thalamic, and dopaminergic inputs to learn associations via synaptic plasticity. The development of synaptic plasticity requires elevations in intracellular calcium as well as interactions of dopamine to control activation of several memory kinases implicated in synaptic plasticity.
Computer modeling, constrained by experiments, is an approach to investigate how patterns of synaptic input control calcium, and the interactions between dopamine and calcium that induce synaptic plasticity. I describe development of software to facilitate development of these large scale models of signaling molecules, and simulations demonstrating the role of dopamine activated signaling pathways in striatal synaptic plasticity. I will also present a model of electrical activity and calcium dynamics, which evaluates how different spatio-temporal patterns of stimulation control synaptic plasticity.