Animal behaviors are reinforced by subsequent rewards following within a narrow time window. Such reward signals are primarily coded by dopamine, which modulates the synaptic connections of medium spiny neurons in the striatum. The mechanisms of the narrow timing detection, however, remain unknown. Here, we optically stimulated dopaminergic and glutamatergic inputs separately and found that dopamine promoted spine enlargement only during a narrow time window (0.3 to 2 seconds) after the glutamatergic inputs. The temporal contingency was detected by rapid regulation of adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate in thin distal dendrites, in which protein-kinase A was activated only within the time window because of a high phosphodiesterase activity. Thus, we describe a molecular basis of reinforcement plasticity at the level of single dendritic spines.
Copyright © 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science.