Douglas K. Reilly and Jagan Srinivasan
To survive, animals must properly sense their surrounding environment. The types of sensation that allow for detecting these changes can be categorized as tactile, thermal, aural, or olfactory. Olfaction is one of the most primitive senses, involving the detection of environmental chemical cues. Organisms must sense and discriminate between abiotic and biogenic cues, necessitating a system that can react and respond to changes quickly. The nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, offers a unique set of tools for studying the biology of olfactory sensation.
The olfactory system in C. elegans is comprised of 14 pairs of amphid neurons in the head and two pairs of phasmid neurons in the tail. The male nervous system contains an additional 89 neurons, many of which are exposed to the environment and contribute to olfaction. The cues sensed by these olfactory neurons initiate a multitude of responses, ranging from developmental changes to behavioral responses. Environmental cues might initiate entry into or exit from a long-lived alternative larval developmental stage (dauer), or pheromonal stimuli may attract sexually mature mates, or repel conspecifics in crowded environments. C. elegans are also capable of sensing abiotic stimuli, exhibiting attraction and repulsion to diverse classes of chemicals. Unlike canonical mammalian olfactory neurons, C. elegans chemosensory neurons express more than one receptor per cell. This enables detection of hundreds of chemical structures and concentrations by a chemosensory nervous system with few cells. However, each neuron detects certain classes of olfactory cues, and, combined with their synaptic pathways, elicit similar responses (i.e., aversive behaviors). The functional architecture of this chemosensory system is capable of supporting the development and behavior of nematodes in a manner efficient enough to allow for the genus to have a cosmopolitan distribution.
Simona Candiani and Mario Pestarino
The central and peripheral nervous systems of amphioxus adults and larvae are characterized by morphofunctional features relevant to understanding the origins and evolutionary history of the vertebrate CNS. Classical neuroanatomical studies are mainly on adult amphioxus, but there has been a recent focus, both by TEM and molecular methods, on the larval CNS. The latter is small and remarkably simple, and new data on the localization of glutamatergic, GABAergic/glycinergic, cholinergic, dopaminergic, and serotonergic neurons within the larval CNS are now available. In consequence, it has been possible begin the process of identifying specific neuronal circuits, including those involved in controlling larval locomotion. This is especially useful for the insights it provides into the organization of comparable circuits in the midbrain and hindbrain of vertebrates. A much better understanding of basic chordate CNS organization will eventually be possible when further experimental data will emerge.
Norio Miyamoto and Hiroshi Wada
Hemichordates are marine invertebrates consisting of two distinct groups: the solitary enteropneusts and the colonial pterobranchs. Hemichordates are phylogenetically a sister group to echinoderm composing Ambulacraria. The adult morphology of hemichordates shares some features with chordates. For that reason, hemichordates have been considered key organisms to understand the evolution of deuterostomes and the origin of the chordate body plan. The nervous system of hemichordates is also important in the discussion of the origin of centralized nervous systems. However, unlike other deuterostomes, such as echinoderms and chordates, information on the nervous system of hemichordates is limited. Recent improvements in the accessibility of embryos, development of functional tools, and genomic resources from several model organisms have provided essential information on the nervous system organization and neurogenesis in hemichordates. The comparison of the nervous system between hemichordates and other bilaterians helps to elucidate the origin of the chordate central nervous system.
Extant hemichordates are divided into two groups: enteropneusts and pterobranchs. The nervous system of adult enteropneusts consists of nerve cords and the basiepidermal nerve net. The two nerve cords run along the dorsal and ventral midlines. The dorsal nerve cord forms a tubular structure in the collar region. The two nerve cords are connected through the prebranchial nerve ring. The larval nervous system of enteropneusts develops along the ciliary band and there is a ganglion at the anterior end of the body called the apical ganglion. A pair of pigmented eyespots is situated at the lateral side of the apical ganglion. The adult nervous system of pterobranchs is basiepidermal and there are several condensations of plexuses. The most prominent one is the brain, located at the base of the tentaculated arms. From the brain, small fibers radiate and enter tentaculated arms to form a tentacle nerve in each. There is a basiepidermal nerve cord in the ventral midline of the trunk.
Jeremy C. Borniger and Luis de Lecea
The hypocretins (also known as orexins) are selectively expressed in a subset of lateral hypothalamic neurons. Since the reports of their discovery in 1998, they have been intensely investigated in relation to their role in sleep/wake transitions, feeding, reward, drug abuse, and motivated behavior. This research has cemented their role as a subcortical relay optimized to tune arousal in response to various salient stimuli. This article reviews their discovery, physiological modulation, circuitry, and integrative functionality contributing to vigilance state transitions and stability. Specific emphasis is placed on humoral and neural inputs regulating hcrt neural function and new evidence for an autoimmune basis of the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Future directions for this field involve dissection of the heterogeneity of this neural population using single-cell transcriptomics, optogenetic, and chemogenetics, as well as monitoring population and single cell activity. Computational models of the hypocretin network, using the “flip-flop” or “integrator neuron” frameworks, provide a fundamental understanding of how this neural population influences brain-wide activity and behavior.
Synaptic connections in the brain can change their strength in response to patterned activity. This ability of synapses is defined as synaptic plasticity. Long lasting forms of synaptic plasticity, long-term potentiation (LTP), and long-term depression (LTD), are thought to mediate the storage of information about stimuli or features of stimuli in a neural circuit. Since its discovery in the early 1970s, synaptic plasticity became a central subject of neuroscience, and many studies centered on understanding its mechanisms, as well as its functional implications.
D. Grahame Hardie and A. Mark Evans
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. Please check back later for the full article.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a sensor of energy status expressed in almost all eukaryotic cells, including neurons. It senses the levels of cellular AMP and ADP relative to ATP. If increases in AMP:ATP and/or ADP:ATP ratios are detected (indicating a reduction in cellular energy status), then AMPK is activated by a mechanism involving both allosteric activation and enhanced net phosphorylation at Thr172 on the catalytic subunit by the upstream kinase LKB1. Once activated, AMPK phosphorylates dozens of downstream targets, thus switching on catabolic pathways that generate ATP and switching off anabolic pathways and other energy-consuming processes. AMPK can also be activated by an alternate, non-canonical mechanism triggered by increases in intracellular Ca2+; this activates the calmodulin-dependent kinase CaMKK2, which can phosphorylate Thr172 in the absence of any changes in adenine nucleotide ratios. AMPK is also activated by glucose starvation by a non-canonical mechanism that is dependent upon LKB1 but is independent of changes in adenine nucleotides.
AMPK occurs in essentially all eukaryotes in the form of heterotrimeric complexes comprising a catalytic α subunit and regulatory β and γ subunits. In vertebrates, each of the three subunits is encoded by two or three genes, generating up to twelve heterotrimeric combinations displaying subtle variations in tissue distribution and regulation. The α subunits contain the kinase domain with Thr172 in the “activation loop” and regulatory regions that interact with the other two subunits. The β subunits contain a domain that, with the small lobe of the kinase domain on the α subunit, forms the “ADaM” site, the binding site for synthetic drugs that are potent allosteric activators of AMPK. It is not yet clear whether there are endogenous ligand(s) that bind to this site. The γ subunits contain three binding sites for the regulatory nucleotides, AMP, ADP, and ATP.
Consistent with its role as an ancient sensor of nutrient starvation, AMPK in specific neurons of the hypothalamus is involved in the regulation of appetite and feeding behavior, being activated by orexigenic hormones like ghrelin that act via the Ca2+-CaMKK2 pathway, and inhibited by anorexigenic hormones such as leptin, possibly via release of opioids that inhibit AMPK.
A special feature of AMPK in excitable cells is its ability to phosphorylate and modulate the function of ion channels, especially K+ channels. For example, in central neurons phosphorylation of the C-terminal tail of the delayed rectifier K+ channel Kv2.1 hyper-polarizes the plasma membrane and reduces the firing of action potentials, thus potentially conserving energy.
Gretchen N. Neigh, Mandakh Bekhbat, and Sydney A. Rowson
Bidirectional interactions between the immune system and central nervous system have been acknowledged for centuries. Over the past 100 years, pioneering studies in both animal models and humans have delineated the behavioral consequences of neuroimmune activation, including the different facets of sickness behavior. Rodent studies have uncovered multiple neural pathways and mechanisms that mediate anorexia, fever, sleep alterations, and social withdrawal following immune activation. Furthermore, work conducted in human patients receiving interferon treatment has elucidated some of the mechanisms underlying immune-induced behavioral changes such as malaise, depressive symptoms, and cognitive deficits.
These findings have provided the foundation for development of treatment interventions for conditions in which dysfunction of immune-brain interactions leads to behavioral pathology. Rodent models of neuroimmune activation frequently utilize endotoxins and cytokines to directly stimulate the immune system. In the absence of pathogen-induced inflammation, a variety of environmental stressors, including psychosocial stressors, also lead to neuroimmune alterations and concurrent behavioral changes. These behavioral alterations can be assessed using a battery of behavioral paradigms while distinguishing acute sickness behavior from the type of behavioral outcome being assessed. Animal studies have also been useful in delineating the role of microglia, the neuroendocrine system, neurotransmitters, and neurotrophins in mediating the behavioral implications of altered neuroimmune activity. Furthermore, the timing and duration of neuroimmune challenge as well as the sex of the organism can impact the behavioral manifestations of altered neuroimmune activity. Finally, neuroimmune modulation through pharmacological or psychosocial approaches has potential for modulating behavior.
William Rodemer, Jianli Hu, and Michael E. Selzer
Human spinal cord injury (SCI) results in long-lasting disabilities due to the failure of damaged neurons to regenerate. The barriers to axon regeneration in mammalian central nervous system (CNS) are so great, and the anatomy so complex that incremental changes in regeneration brought about by pharmacological or molecular manipulations can be difficult to demonstrate. By contrast, lampreys recover functionally after a complete spinal cord transection (TX), based on regeneration of severed axons, even though lampreys share the basic organization of the mammalian CNS, including many of the same molecular barriers to regeneration. And because the regeneration is incomplete, it can be studied by manipulations designed to either inhibit or enhance it. In the face of reduced descending input, recovery of swimming and other locomotor functions must be accompanied by compensatory remodeling throughout the CNS, as would be required for functional recovery in mammals. For such studies, lampreys have significant advantages. They have several large, identified reticulospinal (RS) neurons, whose regenerative abilities have been individually quantified. Other large neurons and axons are visible in the spinal cord and can be impaled with microelectrodes under direct microscopic vision. The central pattern generator for locomotion is exceptionally well-defined, and is subject to significant neuromodulation. Finally, the lamprey genome has been sequenced, so that molecular homologs of human genes can be identified and cloned. Because of these advantages, the lamprey spinal cord has been a fertile source of information about the biology of axon regeneration in the vertebrate CNS, and has the potential to serve as a test bed for the investigation of novel therapeutic approaches to SCI and other CNS injuries.
Jimena Perez-Sanchez and Yves De Koninck
One of the most remarkable properties of neural circuits is the ability to restructure their synaptic connections throughout life. This synaptic plasticity allows neurons to structurally reorganize and adapt their function in response to experience. Among the multiple mechanisms that can modulate this property is synaptic inhibition by gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) and/or glycine ionotropic receptors, which allow the flow of chloride and bicarbonate ions through the membrane. Neurons rely upon tight regulation of intracellular chloride for efficient inhibition through these receptors. The maintenance of chloride gradients is important not only to determine the strength of synaptic inhibition but also to determine its nature. Indeed, this inhibition can be hyperpolarizing or depolarizing, or with no outright change in the membrane potential. Despite the fact that membrane depolarization is commonly associated with excitation, depolarizing GABA/glycine can also produce inhibition, thereby highlighting the dual action of these neurotransmitters. Several considerations must be taken into account in order to allow depolarizing GABA/glycine responses to be excitatory. On the other hand, chloride homeostasis is never steady-state and even small changes of chloride across the membrane can impact the strength of inhibition. This dynamic effect has a direct impact on neuronal excitability and makes its regulation by changes in chloride gradients a highly tunable mechanism. Furthermore, increased excitability may also open a window for system refinement changes, such as synaptic plasticity. Indeed, the regulation of chloride homeostasis may underlie periods of enhanced plasticity, such as during early development. Finally, disruption of chloride gradients arises as a hub for pathology, which is evidenced in multiple disorders in the central nervous system.
Itzhak Fischer and Shaoping Hou
Spinal cord injury is characterized by a complex set of events, which include the disruption of connectivity between the brain and the periphery with little or no spontaneous regeneration, resulting in motor, sensory and autonomic deficits. Transplantation of neural stem cells has the potential to provide the cellular components for repair of spinal cord injury (SCI), including oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, and neurons. The ability to generate graft-derived neurons can be used to restore connectivity by formation of functional relays. The critical requirements for building a relay are to achieve long-term survival of graft-derived neurons and promote axon growth into and out of the transplant. Recent studies have demonstrated that mixed populations of glial and neuronal progenitors provide a permissive microenvironment for survival and differentiation of early-stage neurons, but inclusion of growth factors with the transplant or cues for directional axon growth outside the transplant may also be needed. Other important considerations include the timing of the transplantation and the selection of a population of neurons that maximizes the effective transmission of signals. In some experiments, the essential neuronal relay formation has been developed in both sensory and motor systems related to locomotion, respiration, and autonomic functions. Despite impressive advances, the poor regenerative capacity of adult CNS combined with the inhibitory environment of the injury remain a challenge for achieving functional connectivity via supraspinal tracts, but it is possible that recruitment of local propriospinal neurons may facilitate the formation of relays. Furthermore, it is clear that the new connections will not be identical to the original innervation, and therefore there needs to be a mechanism for translating the resulting connectivity into useful function. A promising strategy is to mimic the process of neural development by exploiting the remarkable plasticity associated with activity and exercise to prune and strengthen synaptic connections. In the meantime, the sources of neural cells for transplantation are rapidly expanding beyond the use of fetal CNS tissue and now include pluripotent ES and iPS cells as well as cells obtained by direct reprogramming. These new options can provide considerable advantages with respect to preparation of cell stocks and the use of autologous grafting, but they present challenges of complex differentiation protocols and risks of tumor formation. It is important to note that although neural stem cell transplantation into the injured spinal cord is primarily designed to provide preclinical data for the potential treatment of patients with SCI, it can also be used to develop analogous protocols for repair of neuronal circuits in other regions of the CNS damaged by injury or neurodegeneration. The advantages of the spinal cord system include well-defined structures and a large array of quantitative functional tests. Therefore, studying the formation of a functional relay will address the fundamental aspects of neuronal cell replacement without the additional complexities associated with brain circuits.