Features and timing of the response of single neurons to novelty in the substantia nigra

Charles B. Mikell, John P. Sheehy, Brett E. Youngerman, Robert A. McGovern, Teresa J. Wojtasiewicz, Andrew K. Chan, Seth L. Pullman, Qiping Yu, Robert R. Goodman, Catherine A. Schevon, Guy M. McKhann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Substantia nigra neurons are known to play a key role in normal cognitive processes and disease states. While animal models and neuroimaging studies link dopamine neurons to novelty detection, this has not been demonstrated electrophysiologically in humans. We used single neuron extracellular recordings in awake human subjects undergoing surgery for Parkinson disease to characterize the features and timing of this response in the substantia nigra. We recorded 49 neurons in the substantia nigra. Using an auditory oddball task, we showed that they fired more rapidly following novel sounds than repetitive tones. The response was biphasic with peaks at approximately 250 ms, comparable to that described in primate studies, and a second peak at 500 ms. This response was primarily driven by slower firing neurons as firing rate was inversely correlated to novelty response. Our data provide human validation of the purported role of dopamine neurons in novelty detection and suggest modifications to proposed models of novelty detection circuitry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-84
Number of pages6
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Jan 13 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Dopamine neurons
  • Human substantia nigra
  • Neurophysiology
  • Novelty

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