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Anita Disney

Assistant Professor of Psychology

We investigate how neuromodulators - particularly acetylcholine - alter activity in mammalian cortical circuits. It is known that acetylcholine can briefly and selectively boost the strength of sensory input arriving at the neocortex from the eyes, skin, ears, and nose. This boosting enables a preferential processing of sensory data over ongoing internal cortical activity; a process that has been compared to “attending” to the external world (in contrast to, say, “attending” to one’s internal thoughts). In addition to these transient effects, prolonged acetylcholine release into the neocortex triggers massive reorganization of cortical maps and alters the local balance of excitatory and inhibitory activity. These longer term changes have been linked to learning and memory. Current questions being investigated in the lab are: How does the cortical cholinergic system subserve these diverse functions, at a mechanistic level? And what is the relationship between acetylcholine’s short-term (attention-like) and long-term (memory-like) effects?

We use diverse techniques to answer these questions. We make and use a unique combined multi-electrode array that can simultaneously monitor local acetylcholine levels (or levels of other neuromodulators) and the spiking activity of neurons. We also explore the mechanisms by which acetylcholine receptors act within cortical circuits using pharmacological techniques. Both of these techniques are used in in combination with behavioral studies. And finally, to make the crucial connection between structure and function, we examine how acetylcholine receptors are distributed within the neocortex using neuroanatomical techniques at the light, confocal, and electron microscopic levels.

Lab Website

Representative Publications

Disney, A.A., McKinney, C., Grissom, L., Lu X., Reynolds J.H. (2015). A multi-site array for combined local electrochemistry and electrophysiology in the non-human primate brain. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 255:29-37.

Disney, A.A., Alasady, H., and Reynolds, J.R. (2014). Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors are expressed by most parvalbumin-immunoreactive neurons in area MT of the macaque. Brain and Behavior. 4: 431-445.

Disney, A.A.  and Reynolds, J.R. (2014). Expression of m1-type muscarinic acetylcholine receptors by parvalbumin-immunoreactive neurons in the primary visual cortex: A comparative study of rat, guinea pig, ferret, macaque, and human. Journal of Comparative Neurology. 522:986-1003.

Disney, A.A., Aoki, C., and Hawken, M.J. (2012). Cholinergic suppression of visual responses in primate V1 is mediated by GABAergic inhibition. Journal of Neurophysiology. 108:1907-1923.

Nauhaus, I., Nielsen, K.J., Disney, A.A., and Callaway, E.M. (2012). Orthogonal micro-organization of orientation and spatial frequency in primate primary visual cortex. Nature Neuroscience. 15: 1683-1690.

Constantinople, C., Disney, A.A., Maffie, J., Rudy, B., and Hawken, M. (2009). A quantitative analysis of neurons with Kv3 potassium channel subunits – Kv3.1b and Kv3.2 – in macaque primary visual cortex. Journal of Comparative Neurology. 516:291-311. Co-first authored.

Disney, A.A. and Aoki, C. (2008). Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in macaque V1 are most frequently expressed by parvalbumin-immunoreactive neurons. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 507: 1748-1762.

Disney, A.A., Aoki, C., and Hawken, M. (2007). Gain modulation by nicotine in macaque V1. Neuron, 56: 701-713.

Disney, A.A., Domakonda, K., and Aoki, C. (2006). Differential expression of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors across excitatory and inhibitory cells in visual cortical areas V1 and V2 of the macaque monkey. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 499: 49-63.



2015-2016 Soderstrom Junior Faculty Teaching Fellow