Zhang Y, Vargas Cifuentes L, Wright K, Bhattarai J, Mohrhardt J, Fleck D, Janke E, Jiang C, Cranfill S, Goldstein N, chreck M, Moberly A, Yu Y, Arenkiel B, Betley J, Luo W, Stegmaier J, Wesson D, Spehr M, Fuccillo M, Ma M (2021) Ventral striatal islands of Calleja neurons control grooming in mice. Nature Neuroscience 24 (12). DOI: 10.1038/s41593-021-00952-z
The striatum comprises multiple subdivisions and neural circuits that differentially control motor output. The islands of Calleja (IC) contain clusters of densely packed granule cells situated in the ventral striatum, predominantly in the olfactory tubercle (OT). Characterized by expression of the D3 dopamine receptor, the IC are evolutionally conserved, but have undefined functions. Here, we show that optogenetic activation of OT D3 neurons robustly initiates self-grooming in mice while suppressing other ongoing behaviors. Conversely, optogenetic inhibition of these neurons halts ongoing grooming, and genetic ablation reduces spontaneous grooming. Furthermore, OT D3 neurons show increased activity before and during grooming and influence local striatal output via synaptic connections with neighboring OT neurons (primarily spiny projection neurons), whose firing rates display grooming-related modulation. Our study uncovers a new role of the ventral striatum’s IC in regulating motor output and has important implications for the neural control of grooming.