Dopamine modulation of prefrontal cortex network dynamics

Schizophrenia is a debilitating condition characterized by cognitive deficits in the realm of working memory, attention and executive function. While these deficits are a core feature of the illness, they are not adequately treated by anti-psychotic medications. The working memory deficits in schizophrenia are thought to involve dysfunction of the dopamine system in the a region of brain called the prefrontal cortex. Dr. Jeremy Seamans is working to understand the neural mechanisms that support working memory in the prefrontal cortex and how these mechanisms are modulated (affected) by dopamine levels. Using computer models, he has been able to link certain phenomena to actions of dopamine at the level of individual neurons and in the synapses between neurons. New computer simulation results suggested an even richer dynamic for how dopamine modulates activity in the prefrontal cortex. By testing the predictions of the computer simulations in a rat model, he will move from describing the known effects of dopamine on single neurons to detailing its impact on large-scale networks of neurons involved in working memory. The work has relevance not only to the theoretical question of how working memory information is coded and modulated but also may provide insight into how variations in the levels and actions of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex produces cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia.