An in vivo assay of synaptic function mediating human cognition

Rosalyn J Moran, Mkael Symmonds, Klaas E Stephan, Karl J Friston, Raymond J Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


The contribution of dopamine to working memory has been studied extensively [1-3]. Here, we exploited its well characterized effects [1-3] to validate a novel human in vivo assay of ongoing synaptic [4, 5] processing. We obtained magnetoencephalographic (MEG) measurements from subjects performing a working memory (WM) task during a within-subject, placebo-controlled, pharmacological (dopaminergic) challenge. By applying dynamic causal modeling (DCM), a Bayesian technique for neuronal system identification [6], to MEG signals from prefrontal cortex, we demonstrate that it is possible to infer synaptic signaling by specific ion channels in behaving humans. Dopamine-induced enhancement of WM performance was accompanied by significant changes in MEG signal power, and a DCM assay disclosed related changes in synaptic signaling. By estimating the contribution of ionotropic receptors (AMPA, NMDA, and GABA(A)) to the observed spectral response, we demonstrate changes in their function commensurate with the synaptic effects of dopamine. The validity of our model is reinforced by a striking quantitative effect on NMDA and AMPA receptor signaling that predicted behavioral improvement over subjects. Our results provide a proof-of-principle demonstration of a novel framework for inferring, noninvasively, neuromodulatory influences on ion channel signaling via specific ionotropic receptors, providing a window on the hidden synaptic events mediating discrete psychological processes in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1320-5
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2011


  • Cognition
  • Dopamine
  • Humans
  • Memory
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synapses

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