Frustrated fish give up thanks to glia, not just neurons

phys.org | 6/20/2019 | Staff
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Secured in place in a virtual-reality-equipped chamber, frustrated zebrafish just didn't want to swim anymore.

They had been "swimming" along fine, until the virtual reality system removed visual feedback associated with movement. To the fish, it appeared as if they were drifting backward, regardless of how hard they stroked.

Fish - Harder - Misha - Ahrens - Group

First, the fish thrashed harder. Then, they simply gave up, says neuroscientist Misha Ahrens, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus. "Giving up is a very important thing for animals to be able to do," he says. Without the ability to stop a behavior that's not working, animals would needlessly deplete their energy.

Ahrens and his team at Janelia wanted to identify the neurons responsible for the decision to quit. The researchers watched the zebrafish's brain activity patterns as they struggled. But the clearest signal wasn't coming from neurons. The cells that sprang into action just before the zebrafish called it quits were actually glia, long thought to play a supporting role in the brain.

Find - June - Journal - Cell - Evidence

The find, reported June 20, 2019, in the journal Cell, is clear evidence that cells other than neurons can perform computations that influence behavior—a discovery so surprising that the team took pains to verify their work, Ahrens says.

"We were excited and also very skeptical," he says. "We challenged ourselves to try and disprove it."

Decades - Scientists - Glia - Greek - Support

Until about two decades ago, scientists thought glia (from the Greek for "glue") just provided support and insulation for neurons. But recent research has begun to uncover new roles for glia in processing. Now, Ahrens, Janelia Research Scientist Yu Mu, and their colleagues—Davis Bennett, Mikail Rubinov and others—have shown that, in zebrafish, one type of glial cell can calculate when an effort is futile.

"The original hope was that we would find the neurons that drive this 'giving-up' behavior," Ahrens says.

Imaging

A whole-brain imaging...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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