The activity of neurons in the striatum relies on the chemical dopamine. A shortage of dopamine in the striatum can lead to Parkinson's disease, in which a person loses the ability to execute smooth motions, progressing to muscle rigidity, tremors and sometimes complete loss of movement. The condition affects 1.5 million Americans, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.
"It turns out that the striatum is much more complicated than imagined," said Malenka. The striatum consists of several different cell types that are virtually indistinguishable under the microscope. To uncover the individual contributions of the cell types, Malenka and Kreitzer used genetically modified mice in which the various cell types were labeled with a fluorescent protein that glows vivid green under a microscope. Having an unequivocal way to identify the cells allowed them to tease apart the functions of the different cell types.
Malenka's lab has long studied how the communication between different neurons is modified by experience and disease. In their examination of two types of mouse striatum cells, Kreitzer and Malenka found that a particular form of adaptation occurs in one cell type but not in the other.
Malenka said this discovery was exciting because no one had determined whether there were functional differences between the various cell types. Their study indicated that the two types of cells formed complementary circuits in the brain.
One of the circuits is thought to be involved in activating motion, while the other is thought to be involved in restraining unwanted movement. "These two circuits are critically involved in a push-pull to select the appropriate movement to perform and to inhibit the
Source:Stanford University Medical Center