Lesion of striatal patches disrupts habitual behaviors and increases behavioral variability
Habits are automated behaviors that are insensitive to changes in behavioral outcomes. Habitual responding is thought to be mediated by the striatum, with medial striatum guiding goal-directed action and lateral striatum promoting habits. However, interspersed throughout the striatum are neurochemically differing subcompartments known as patches, which are characterized by distinct molecular profiles relative to the surrounding matrix tissue. These structures have been thoroughly characterized neurochemically and anatomically, but little is known regarding their function. Patches have been shown to be selectively activated during inflexible motor stereotypies elicited by stimulants, suggesting that patches may subserve habitual behaviors. To explore this possibility, we utilized transgenic mice (Sepw1 NP67) preferentially expressing Cre recombinase in striatal patch neurons to target these neurons for ablation with a virus driving Cre-dependent expression of caspase 3. Mice were then trained to press a lever for sucrose rewards on a variable interval schedule to elicit habitual responding. Mice were not impaired on the acquisition of this task, but lesioning striatal patches disrupted behavioral stability across training, and lesioned mice utilized a more goal-directed behavioral strategy during training. Similarly, when mice were forced to omit responses to receive sucrose rewards, habitual responding was impaired in lesioned mice. To rule out effects of lesion on motor behaviors, mice were then tested for impairments in motor learning on a rotarod and locomotion in an open field. We found that patch lesions partially impaired initial performance on the rotarod without modifying locomotor behaviors in open field. This work indicates that patches promote behavioral stability and habitual responding, adding to a growing literature implicating striatal patches in stimulus-response behaviors.
Nadel, Jacob A., Sean S. Pawelko, Della Copes-Finke, et al. 2020. “Lesion of striatal patches disrupts habitual behaviors and increases behavioral variability.” PLoS ONE, 15(1): e0224715.
Public Library of Science