The basal forebrain (BF) is a complex brain region that plays an important role in modulating cortical activity. The BF contains cholinergic and various non-cholinergic corticopetal neurons and interneurons. The corticopetal BF projections, especially the cholinergic component, have been implicated in memory, sensory processing and attention. In spite of intensive efforts by many laboratories over the last two decades, it remains enigmatic how the BF is organized to support both general arousal as well as specific functions like attention. Novel 3D reconstructions and numerical analyses suggest that the distribution of the various cell types is not random but displays a general pattern of association. Within the cholinergic space (i.e. the volume occupied by the cell bodies of cortically projecting BF cholinergic neurons) different cell types occupy high- density cell clusters that are regionally specific. It is hypothesized that these cell groups (clusters) in various locations in the BF together with specific prefrontal and posterior cortical areas may provide the neural basis of a distributed functional network that orchestrates localized cortical modulation. Specific projects in this application are variants on the theme of anatomical segregation of functional domains in basalo-cortical networks.
Specific Aim 1 will define and validate BF cell clusters across individuals of rats and will assess the intersubejct variability of clusters.
Specific Aim 2 will define the cortical projection target of BF cell clusters.
Specific Aim 3 will test the hypothesis that the BF is topographically organized such that specific prefrontal cortical areas target specific BF cell groups, which in turn innervate specific limbic, posterior sensory or associational cortical areas.
Specific Aim 4 we will characterize the biophysical and anatomical properties of local processing with special reference to NPY-cholinergic interaction, using in vitro paired recordings with intrinsic (GFP-NPY) labeling for NPY neurons and in vivo (Cy3-192IgG) pre-labeling for cholinergic neurons. We hypothesize that NPY neurons suppress cholinergic firing. The data acquisition in these projects represents a complete transition from cell populations to electron microscopy reconstructions of single synapses and investigations of their functions. The project will employ highly innovative approaches to data analysis, that bridge several important methodological gaps relating to cross-scale integration of neuroanatomical data collected at the cellular and systems levels. The proposed study will lead to more realistic description of basalo-cortical networks at the brain-wide scale that can guide and constrain behavioral studies on cholinergic function, in particular mechanisms of sensory integration and attention. Concomitantly, it will facilitate the understanding of the aberrant processing in basalo-cortical networks that characterizes several neuropsychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and drug abuse.

Public Health Relevance

Cholinergic cells, which are widely distributed in the basal forebrain BF), provide the majority of acetylcholine found in the cerebral cortex. This highly complex brain region has been implicated in a range of behaviors, including cortical activation, attention, motivation and memory, but the functional details are not well understood. Patients with Alzheimer's disease and in related dementias have a significant decrease of acetylcholine in the cortex and show pathological changes in cholinergic basal forebrain neurons. Part of the difficulty in understanding the role of the BF, as well as the processing characteristics of these disorders lies in the anatomical complexity of the region. The overall goal of this application is to improve our knowledge of the functional structure and connections of the BF. The results will lead to more realistic animal models for addressing function in behavioral studies. Concomitantly, it will facilitate the understanding of the aberrant processing in basalo-cortical networks and may help the development of new treatment strategies to ameliorate the cognitive symptoms in these disorders.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BDCN-N (02))
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Corriveau, Roderick A
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Rutgers University
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