An article by Vincent Breton-Provencher in Nature explains the role of a neuromodulator, noradrenaline, in reinforcement learning

Vincent Breton-Provencher

Summary of the discovery published by Jean Hamann (ULaval News)

How does our brain learn? A study specifies the role of a neuromodulator, noradrenaline, in reinforcement learning

It is said that practice makes perfect. There is no doubt that this proverb is true, but the neural mechanisms by which repetition of a task can lead to an improvement in its execution are still largely unknown. A study published today in Nature lifts part of the veil on the subject and clarifies the role of a neuromodulator, noradrenaline, in this process.

The first author of this study, Vincent Breton-Provencher, from the Faculty of Medicine and the CERVO brain research centre at Laval University, undertook the research that led to this publication while doing a postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Mriganka Sur's team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Our work was aimed at understanding the functioning of the neural circuits that control noradrenaline and their involvement in task performance and learning reinforcement," he says.

Noradrenaline is mainly produced by neurons in the locus coeruleus, an area located between the spinal cord and the brain. "The cell bodies of the neurons that produce noradrenaline are located in the locus coeruleus, but their axons extend into several areas of the brain. This is what allows them to modulate functions as varied as attention, arousal, vigilance, sleep, learning and reinforcement," Breton-Provencher points out.

Read the rest of this news (in French) on the website ULaval Nouvelles

Read the original research article in Nature:

Vincent Breton-Provencher, Gabrielle T. Drummond, Jiesi Feng, Yulong Li & Mriganka Sur. Spatiotemporal dynamics of noradrenaline during learned behaviour. Nature (2022). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04782-2

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