MIT neuroscientists have discovered connections deep within the brain that appear to form a communication pathway between areas that control emotion, decision-making, and movement. The researchers suspect that these connections, which they call striosome-dendron bouquets, may be involved in controlling how the brain makes decisions that are influenced by emotion or anxiety. This circuit may also be one of the targets of the neural degeneration seen in Parkinson’s disease, says Ann Graybiel, Ph.D., an Institute Professor at MIT, member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study. Dr. Graybiel and her colleagues were able to find these connections using a technique developed at MIT known as expansion microscopy, which enables scientists to expand brain tissue before imaging it. This produces much higher-resolution images than would otherwise be possible with conventional microscopes. That technique was developed in the lab of Edward Boyden, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, who is also an author of this study. Jill Crittenden, Ph.D., a research scientist at the McGovern Institute, is the lead author of the paper, which was published online on September 19, 2016 in PNAS. The article is titled “Striosome–Dendron Bouquets Highlight a Unique Striatonigral Circuit Targeting Dopamine-Containing Neurons.” In this study, the researchers focused on a small region of the brain known as the striatum, which is part of the basal ganglia — a cluster of brain centers associated with habit formation, control of voluntary movement, emotion, and addiction.
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