Carnegie Mellon Univ. neuroscientists have identified a new pathway by which several brain areas communicate within the brain’s striatum.
Published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the findings illustrate structural and functional connections that allow the brain to use reinforcement learning to make spatial decisions, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal (DLPFC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC). Communication between these regions is important for abilities like how a baseball player is able to estimate where to swing his bat or how a person finds a car in a large parking lot filled with similar cars.
Knowing how these specific pathways work together provides crucial insight into how learning occurs. It also could lead to improved treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
“By understanding precisely how these systems communicate together, we can come up with a better understanding for how these systems operate in the healthy brain, but also start to understand how in Parkinson’s disease different types of systems ‘cascade,’ or start with one symptom like motor dysfunction and move to another like memory or decision-making problems,” said Timothy Verstynen, assistant professor of psychology and a faculty member in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.