(Oct. 16, 2017) -- How do we know if it was worth the wait in line to get a meal at the new restaurant in town? To do this our brain must be able to signal how good the meal tastes and associate this feeling with the restaurant. This is done by a small group of cells deep in the brain that release the chemical dopamine. The amount of dopamine released by these cells can influence our decisions by telling us how good a reward will be in the future. For example, more dopamine is released to the smell of a cake baking relative to the smell of leftovers. But does waiting change how dopamine is released?
A new study in Cell Reports by Matthew Wanat, assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), sheds light on how dopamine cells in the brain signal the passage of time. Wanat’s study used a technique called voltammetry to record dopamine release in rodents trained using Pavlovian conditioning. This task used two different tones that both predicted the delivery of a food reward. One tone was presented only after a short wait while the other tone was presented only after a long wait. Wanat and colleagues found that more dopamine was released to the short wait tone. These results highlight that when dopamine neurons respond to cues, faster is better.
“The big question that we’re focusing on is to identify the brain signals that influence the decisions we make,” Wanat said. “Many decisions are based upon comparing the value between cues associated with different rewards. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that these dopamine signals and external cues provide useful value-related signals that could inform our decisions to engage in a behavior.”
While Wanat and his collaborators are interested in studying how dopamine release is involved with cues triggering behavior, their work could also inform the understanding of drug addiction, which is closely intertwined with dopamine. Drug addiction can “hijack” the brain regions where dopamine is released. “By figuring out how the dopamine system works in normal and abnormal circumstances, we could potentially identify important changes and the ways that could target the dopamine system to rectify the consequences of those behaviors,” Wanat said.
“A lot has been said about the role of dopamine in reward, but reward is only really important in the context of making choices. Dr. Wanat's experiments allow direct measurement of dopamine acting in the brain during the process of choosing, and reveals how the brain decides the values of our choices,” said Charles Wilson, Ewing Halsell Distinguished Chair in Biology.
Wanat’s overarching research focuses on the brain’s relationships with memory, stress and drug addiction and how those components interact with each other. He is a member of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute, a multidisciplinary research organization for integrated brain studies with the mission to foster a collaborative community of scientists committed to studying the biological basis of human experience and behavior and the origin and treatment of nervous system diseases.
Wanat is one of 40 brain health researchers at UTSA, a group that includes experts in neurodegenerative disease, brain circuits and electrical signaling, traumatic brain injury, regenerative medicine, stem cell therapies, medicinal chemistry, neuroinflammation, drug design and psychology. Together, they are collaborating on complex, large-scale research producing a greater understanding of the brain’s complexity and the factors that cause its decline.
UTSA is recognized as one of the top five young universities in the nation by Times Higher Education.
Read Matthew Wanat’s study, “Dopamine Encodes Retrospective Temporal Information in a Context-Independent Manner.”
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.
Learn more about the UTSA Neurosciences Institute.
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
All UTSA students, faculty, staff, alums & families are invited to march as a unified community. Register here: bit.ly/2TYbHbR. Shuttles will be provided from the Main and Downtown Campuses.Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, 3501 MLK Dr., San Antonio
UTSA's John Nix invites the community to sing "Amazing Grace" and “We Shall Overcome” at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The intent of this nationwide effort is to honor Dr. King's legacy and to spread a sense of community in the United States.Locations throughout the United States
Opening Reception got exhibit featuring artists Miguel Aragon, Aaron Coleman, Sandra Fernandez, Annalise Gratovich, Marco Hernandez, Kristen Powers Nowlin, & Patricia Villalobos EcheverriaMain Art Gallery, Arts Building (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Cir. #120, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
The annual event features authentic foods, music, dance, martial arts, shopping, games and entertainment from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific. The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
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