Neurons have been discovered that encode the relationship between our actions and the result obtained

(ORDO NEWS) — In the striatum of the brain, scientists have discovered a population of neurons that compare the intended and actual results of an action.

It is they who are involved in the process of making complex decisions that require an assessment of the risks and benefits of each option.

When making complex decisions, we have to take into account many factors. Some options offer high rewards but come with potential risks; others, on the contrary, seem safer, but lead to less reward.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) have found out which area of ​​the brain is involved in this complex information processing.

The researchers found a group of neurons in the striatum that encode information about the potential outcomes of various decisions.

These cells become most active when the decision leads to a result different from the expected one, both favorable and undesirable. It is this mechanism that allows us to adapt to changing circumstances.

The striatum is the structure of the cerebral hemispheres. It got its name because of the alternation of stripes of white and gray matter, which can be seen on sections. The striatum was known to play a key role in decision making that required evaluation of the results of actions.

To investigate these processes in more detail, the researchers taught lab mice to spin the wheel right and left. Animals were rewarded with sweet water or punished with a breath of cold air.

The rodents learned to optimize their behavior, but over the course of the training, the scientists changed the likelihood of receiving a reward or punishment, so the subjects needed to adjust their actions.

After that, the authors of the work recorded the activity of neurons in the striatum. They expected to reveal neural activity that reflected potentially beneficial and harmful actions. However, it turned out that many striatal neurons encoded the relationship between action and result.

These cells became more active when the behavior led to an unexpected result. For example, when turning the wheel to the left caused punishment, whereas before the animal received only a reward for this. Such error signals forced the mice to change tactics.

Most of these neurons were in structures called striosomes. It was from there that signals were sent to other parts of the brain, including areas where dopamine is released and areas involved in movement planning.

Probably, striosome neurons record only the results of actions, and a decision based on this information is made by another part of the brain.

Decision-making problems accompany various mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug abuse.

According to the authors, even small disturbances in the activity of striatal neurons can cause us to make impulsive decisions or, conversely, become indecisive.


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