New paper: Distracting stimuli evoke neural responses in rats during ongoing saccharin consumption

Why do we sometimes get distracted by things around us and what is happening in the brain when this happens? Distractions are a way of pausing what we are doing to check whether something important is occurring in our environment. In an animal like a rat this might mean being alert to potential threats (eg predators) even while in the middle of a meal.

 In these experiments we explored whether neurons in a brain region called the ventral tegmental area (VTA) were involved in distraction. The VTA is essential for reward (ie responding to good things like food) and learning and we wanted to know if it also responds to distractions. In the Leicester Division of Biomedical Sciences facility we used the cutting edge technique fiber photometry to measure the activity of brain cells in this area. Rats were presented with distracting events (flashing lights, tones etc.) whilst they were already drinking a sweet solution. We found that these distractors caused the rats to pause drinking, and that the VTA responded differently depending on whether the rat was distracted or not distracted. These results show that this important brain area, the VTA, is involved in monitoring the world for interesting or novel events. This may be important in disorders that affect attention such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Last updated: 22.02.2021 10:05