(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.
This spring UTSA is hosting a 30-second film festival on TikTok! Your mission? Create a 30-second video that highlights how you relax with Adobe Creative Cloud. This is your chance to take a break from the world around you make something fun. The top three videos will receive prizes that will help you on your creative journey and the top ten winners will receive free Adobe swag!Virtual Event
A lecture series brought to you by Loma de Vida Spa & Wellness and UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy. Dr. Sara Oswalt is the chair of & professor in the Department of Public Health at UTSA. She is also a certified sexuality educator through the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, & Therapists.Virtual Event
As part of the annual Campus Race to Zero Waste, the Office of Facilities will provide sensitive document shredding services for our UTSA community. You can bring work-related or personal documents. All we ask is for you to shred away to help recycle!Parking Lot UTSA Student Union and Ximenes Avenue Garade
In many courses, faculty broach relevant but difficult topics surrounding race, ethnicity, civil rights, and much more with sensitivity and caring—-but this may be especially difficult in an online classroom. In this session, Dr. Shelley Howell will discuss how faculty can create an inclusive classroom environment digitally to allow for conducive conversations for all parties.Virtual Event
Great discussions continue this spring with Mary McNaughton-Cassill, Professor of Psychology and Donna Edmondson, University Ombuds. They are providing five 30-minute interactive webinars. Topics include bridge building, stigmas, team building, staying engaged at work and our shared experiences.Virtual Event
The Black Student Union of UTSA presents a panel discussion on Black women in history and the impact of prominent Black women in the Roadrunner Community.Virtual Event
Join this workshop to explore how this instructor designed and delivered an exemplary course with an innovative design and a student-centered approach. This workshop is focused on the use of virtual labs and interactive content using interactive tools such as PlayPosit and Softchalk for an enhanced learning experience in large classes (more than 400 students).Virtual Event
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education.
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to ending generations of discrimination and inequity. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.