The ability to sense and respond to a rewarding stimulus is a key advantage for animals in their natural environment. The circuits that mediate these responses are complex, and it has been difficult to identify the fundamental principles of reward structure and function. However, the well-characterized brain anatomy and sophisticated neurogenetic tools in Drosophila melanogaster make the fly an ideal model to understand the mechanisms through which reward is encoded. Drosophila find food, water, intoxicating substances, and social acts rewarding. Basic monoaminergic neurotransmitters, including dopamine (DA), serotonin (5-HT), and octopamine (OA), play a central role in encoding these rewards. DA is central to sensing, encoding, responding, and predicting reward, whereas 5-HT and OA carry information about the environment that influences DA circuit activity. In contrast, slower-acting neuromodulators such as hormones and neuropeptides play a key role in both encoding the pleasurable stimulus and modulating how the internal environment of the fly influences reward sensation and seeking. Recurring circuit motifs for reward signaling identified in Drosophila suggest that these key principles will help elucidate understanding of how reward circuits function in all animals.
John S. Hernandez, Tariq M. Brown, and Karla R. Kaun
Edgar T. Walters
Chronic pain lasting months or longer is very common, poorly treated, and sometimes devastating. Nociceptors are sensory neurons that usually are silent unless activated by tissue damage or inflammation. In humans their peripheral activation evokes conscious pain, and their spontaneous activity is highly correlated with spontaneous pain. Persistently hyperactive nociceptors mediate increased responses to normally painful stimuli (hyperalgesia) in chronic conditions and promote the sensitization of central pain pathways that allows low-threshold mechanoreceptors to elicit painful responses to innocuous stimuli (allodynia). Investigations of rodent models of neuropathic pain and hyperalgesic priming have revealed many alterations in nociceptors and associated cells that are implicated in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. These include chronic nociceptor hyperexcitability and spontaneous activity, sprouting, synaptic plasticity, changes in intracellular signaling, and modified responses to opioids, along with alterations in the expression and translation of thousands of genes in nociceptors and closely linked cells.
William H. Walker II and A. Courtney DeVries
Neuroimmunology is the study of the interaction between the immune system and nervous system during development, homeostasis, and disease states. Descriptions of neuroinflammatory diseases dates back centuries. However, in depth scientific investigation in the field began in the late 19th century and continues into the 21st century. Contrary to prior dogma in the field of neuroimmunology, there is immense reciprocal crosstalk between the brain and the immune system throughout development, homeostasis, and disease states. Proper neuroimmune functioning is necessary for optimal health, as the neuroimmune system regulates vital processes including neuronal signaling, synapse pruning, and clearance of debris and pathogens within the central nervous system. Perturbations in optimal neuroimmune functioning can have detrimental consequences for the host and underlie a myriad of physical, cognitive, and behavioral abnormalities. As such, the field of neuroimmunology is still relatively young and dynamic and represents an area of active research and discovery.
Michelle T. Foster
In mammals, reproductive function is closely regulated by energy availability. It is influenced by both extremes of nutrition, too few calories (undernutrition) and an excessive amount of calories (obesity). Atypical decreases or increases in weight can have adverse effects on the reproductive axis. This includes suppression of reproductive function, decreases in ovarian cyclicity, reduction in fertility, anovulation, and dysregulation of spermatogenesis. The balance between energy regulation and reproduction is supervised by a complex system comprised of the brain and peripheral tissues. The brain senses and integrates various systemic and central signals that are indicative of changes in body physiology and energy status. This occurs via numerous factors, including metabolic hormones and nutrients. Adipokines, endocrine factors primarily secreted by white adipose tissue, and adipose tissue related cytokines (adipocytokines) contribute to the regulation of maturity, fertility, and reproduction. Indeed, some adipokines play a fundamental role in reproductive disorders. The brain, predominantly the hypothalamus, is responsible for linking adipose-derived signals to pathways controlling reproductive processes. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) cells in the hypothalamus are fundamental in relaying adipose-derived signals to the pituitary–gonadal axis, which consequently controls reproductive processes. Leptin, adiponectin, apelin, chermin, resistin, and visfatin are adipokines that regulate reproductive events via the brain.
Dayna L. Averitt, Rebecca S. Hornung, and Anne Z. Murphy
The modulatory influence of sex hormones on acute pain, chronic pain disorders, and pain management has been reported for over seven decades. The effect of hormones on pain is clearly evidenced by the multitude of chronic pain disorders that are more common in women, such as headache and migraine, temporomandibular joint disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Several of these pain disorders also fluctuate in pain intensity over the menstrual cycle, including headache and migraine and temporomandibular joint disorder. The sex steroid hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) as well as some peptide hormones (prolactin, oxytocin, and vasopressin) have been linked to pain by both clinical and preclinical research. Progesterone and testosterone are widely accepted as having protective effects against pain, while the literature on estrogen reports both exacerbation and attenuation of pain. Prolactin is reported to trigger pain, while oxytocin and vasopressin have analgesic properties in both sexes. Only in the last two decades have neuroscientists begun to unravel the complex anatomical and molecular mechanisms underlying the direct effects of sex hormones and mechanisms have been reported in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Mechanisms include directly or indirectly targeting receptors and ion channels on sensory neurons, activating pain excitatory or pain inhibitory centers in the brain, and reducing inflammatory mediators. Despite recent progress, there remains significant controversy and challenges in the field and the seemingly pleiotropic role estrogen plays on pain remains ambiguous. Current knowledge of the effects of sex hormones on pain has led to the burgeoning of gender-based medicine, and gaining further insight will lead to much needed improvement in pain management in women.
Kristina A. Kigerl and Phillip G. Popovich
Spinal cord injury (SCI) disrupts the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and impairs communication with organ systems throughout the body, resulting in chronic multi-organ pathology and dysfunction. This dysautonomia contributes to the pronounced immunosuppression and gastrointestinal dysfunction seen after SCI. All of these factors likely contribute to the development of gut dysbiosis after SCI—an imbalance in the composition of the gut microbiota that can impact the development and progression of numerous pathological conditions, including SCI. The gut microbiota are the community of microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi) that live in the GI tract and are critical for nutrient absorption, digestion, and immune system development. These microbes also communicate with the CNS through modulation of the immune system, production of neuroactive metabolites and neurotransmitters, and activation of the vagus nerve. After SCI, gut dysbiosis develops and persists for more than one year from the time of injury. In experimental models of SCI, gut dysbiosis is correlated with changes in inflammation and functional recovery. Moreover, probiotic treatment can improve locomotor recovery and immune function in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). Since different types of bacteria produce different metabolites with unique physiological and pathological effects throughout the body, it may be possible to predict the prevalence or severity of post-injury immune dysfunction and other related comorbidities (e.g., metabolic disease, fatigue, anxiety) using microbiome sequencing data. As research identifies microbial-derived small molecules and the genes responsible for their production, it is likely that it will become feasible to manipulate these molecules to affect human biology and disease.
Peter Wenner and Pernille Bülow
Homeostatic plasticity refers to a collection of mechanisms that function to homeostatically maintain some feature of neural function. The field began with the view that homeostatic plasticity exists predominantly for the maintenance of spike rate. However, it has become clear that multiple features undergo some form of homeostatic control, including network activity, burst rate, or synaptic strength. There are several different forms of homeostatic plasticity, which are typically triggered following perturbations in activity levels. Homeostatic intrinsic plasticity (HIP) appears to compensate for the perturbation with changes in membrane excitability (voltage-gated conductances); synaptic scaling is thought to be a multiplicative increase or decrease of synaptic strengths throughout the cell following an activity perturbation; presynaptic homeostatic plasticity is a change in probability of release following a perturbation to postsynaptic receptor activity. Each form of homeostatic plasticity can be different in terms of the mechanisms that are engaged, the feature that is homeostatically regulated, the trigger that initiates the compensation, and the signaling cascades that mediate these processes. Homeostatic plasticity is often described in development, but can extend into maturity and has been described in vitro and in vivo.
Kaitlin Farrell, Megan R. Detloff, and John D. Houle
Spinal cord injury has instantaneous, destructive effects on bodily functions, as readily demonstrated by muscle paralysis and non-responsiveness to sensory stimulation. This primary response has underlying features at molecular, cellular, tissue and organ levels which will, in a relatively brief time, initiate a secondary cascade of events that exacerbates the extent of the primary focus of damage. Interestingly, the initial extent of motor and sensory loss often is followed by limited, but significant spontaneous functional recovery. Recovery may be due to intrinsic central pattern generators such as for locomotion, the uncovering of dormant anatomical and physiological pathways such as the crossed phrenic for respiration, or to the sprouting of undamaged axons within the spinal cord to establish new connections around or across the injury site. Together the responses to injury and spontaneous efforts for repair represent plastic changes in the central nervous system (CNS) that may result in meaningful functional outcomes, though aberrant sprouting is a possible negative consequence of neuroplasticity that lends caution to the desire for extensive but uncontrolled sprouting.
D. Grahame Hardie and A. Mark Evans
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is a sensor of cellular energy status that monitors the levels of 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), AMPK is activated by the canonical mechanism involving both allosteric activation and enhanced net phosphorylation at Thr172 on the catalytic subunit. 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 non-canonical mechanisms, triggered either by glucose starvation by a mechanism independent of changes in adenine nucleotides, or by increases in intracellular Ca 2 + in response to hormones, mediated by the alternate upstream kinase CaMKK2. AMPK is expressed in almost all eukaryotic cells, including neurons, as heterotrimeric complexes comprising a catalytic α subunit and regulatory β and γ subunits. The α subunits contain the kinase domain 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 that binds synthetic drugs that are potent allosteric activators of AMPK, while the γ subunits contain the binding sites for the classical regulatory nucleotides, AMP, ADP, and ATP. Although much undoubtedly remains to be discovered about the roles of AMPK in the nervous system, emerging evidence has confirmed the proposal that, in addition to its universal functions in regulating energy balance at the cellular level, AMPK also has cell- and circuit-specific roles at the whole-body level, particularly in energy homeostasis. These roles are mediated by phosphorylation of neural-specific targets such as ion channels, distinct from the targets by which AMPK regulates general, cell-autonomous energy balance. Examples of these cell- and circuit-specific functions discussed in this review include roles in the hypothalamus in balancing energy intake (feeding) and energy expenditure (thermogenesis), and its role in the brainstem, where it supports the hypoxic ventilatory response (breathing), increasing the supply of oxygen to the tissues during systemic hypoxia.
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.