Dynamic Cholinergic Tone in the Basal Forebrain Reflects Reward-Seeking and Reinforcement During Olfactory Behavior

Front Cell Neurosci. 2021 Feb 2;15:635837. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2021.635837. eCollection 2021.


Sensory perception underlies how we internalize and interact with the external world. In order to adapt to changing circumstances and interpret signals in a variety of contexts, sensation needs to be reliable, but perception of sensory input needs to be flexible. An important mediator of this flexibility is top-down regulation from the cholinergic basal forebrain. Basal forebrain projection neurons serve as pacemakers and gatekeepers for downstream neural networks, modulating circuit activity across diverse neuronal populations. This top-down control is necessary for sensory cue detection, learning, and memory, and is disproportionately disrupted in neurodegenerative diseases associated with cognitive decline. Intriguingly, cholinergic signaling acts locally within the basal forebrain to sculpt the activity of basal forebrain output neurons. To determine how local cholinergic signaling impacts basal forebrain output pathways that participate in top-down regulation, we sought to define the dynamics of cholinergic signaling within the basal forebrain during motivated behavior and learning. Toward this, we utilized fiber photometry and the genetically encoded acetylcholine indicator GAChR2.0 to define temporal patterns of cholinergic signaling in the basal forebrain during olfactory-guided, motivated behaviors and learning. We show that cholinergic signaling reliably increased during reward seeking behaviors, but was strongly suppressed by reward delivery in a go/no-go olfactory-cued discrimination task. The observed transient reduction in cholinergic tone was mirrored by a suppression in basal forebrain GABAergic neuronal activity. Together, these findings suggest that cholinergic tone in the basal forebrain changes rapidly to reflect reward-seeking behavior and positive reinforcement and may impact downstream circuitry that modulates olfaction.

Keywords: GABA; acetylcholine; basal forebrain; discrimination; go/no-go; olfaction; reward; top-down.