Research Topic

Revisiting Behavioral Variability: What It Reveals About Neural Circuit Structure and Function

About this Research Topic

Recent advances in circuit tracing technologies have revealed comprehensive maps of neuronal connectivity in the brains of many model organisms. The mapping of neural circuits is also the focus of multiple recent international initiatives in neuroscience. Brain-wide circuit maps, once available only for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, are greatly facilitating advances in our understanding of circuit function in animal behavior. An implicit assumption behind using connectomes to study behavior is that neural circuits are structured in a stereotypical manner. This assumption points to several important questions: how does an animal adjust its behavioral patterns flexibly using a stereotyped circuit? What are the neural origins of behavioral variability across and within individuals? Like the genome sequence, a connectome by itself is likely insufficient to answer these outstanding questions. Rather, a connectome will serve as an indispensable platform to uncover neural mechanisms that support behavioral flexibility.

The goal of this Research Topic is to advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms by which a “stereotypical” neural circuit generates behavioral variability. This question has been traditionally addressed under multiple frameworks including motivation, internal states, learning, and plasticity. This Research Topic specifically aims to address genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and physiological mechanisms that reconcile perceived stereotypy of circuit structure and behavioral variability. Robust discussions on the very concept of “stereotypy” and “variability” of both circuit and behavior (including behavioral idiosyncrasy, or a “habit” of an individual) will be an important foundation for achieving this goal, since these words can be used for either individual- or group-level behaviors, without clear quantitative definitions. Additionally, comparative approaches that reveal the evolutionary mechanisms generating diverse behavioral patterns among related species can provide useful insight. Through original experimental and theoretical research, as well as reviews on recent research progress, we aim to highlight specific research areas focused on discovering how diverse neural mechanisms underlie the flexibility of behavior across and within animal species.

We are specifically soliciting Original Research articles and Reviews that:

· Refine the working definitions of “stereotypy” and “variability” in circuits and behavior, and how these concepts should be incorporated into neuroscience research.

· Address molecular and physiological mechanisms that enable flexible behavioral outputs from a “stereotyped” neural circuit.

· Investigate the origins of behavioral polymorphism in an animal population with a relatively “homogeneous” genetic composition. The population of interest includes a laboratory animal colony with a known genetic background and a natural population under genetic equilibrium.

· Shed lights on the evolutionary basis by which species with similar genetic and circuit organizations diversify behavioral patterns. GWAS and other purely correlational studies are outside the scope of this Research Topic.

· Address how the nervous system uses experience and internal states to optimize behavior. Disease models are outside the scope of this Research Topic.

· Investigate, through theory and/or experiments, how behavioral variability can be beneficial for individuals and species.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Recent advances in circuit tracing technologies have revealed comprehensive maps of neuronal connectivity in the brains of many model organisms. The mapping of neural circuits is also the focus of multiple recent international initiatives in neuroscience. Brain-wide circuit maps, once available only for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, are greatly facilitating advances in our understanding of circuit function in animal behavior. An implicit assumption behind using connectomes to study behavior is that neural circuits are structured in a stereotypical manner. This assumption points to several important questions: how does an animal adjust its behavioral patterns flexibly using a stereotyped circuit? What are the neural origins of behavioral variability across and within individuals? Like the genome sequence, a connectome by itself is likely insufficient to answer these outstanding questions. Rather, a connectome will serve as an indispensable platform to uncover neural mechanisms that support behavioral flexibility.

The goal of this Research Topic is to advance our understanding of the neural mechanisms by which a “stereotypical” neural circuit generates behavioral variability. This question has been traditionally addressed under multiple frameworks including motivation, internal states, learning, and plasticity. This Research Topic specifically aims to address genetic, epigenetic, developmental, and physiological mechanisms that reconcile perceived stereotypy of circuit structure and behavioral variability. Robust discussions on the very concept of “stereotypy” and “variability” of both circuit and behavior (including behavioral idiosyncrasy, or a “habit” of an individual) will be an important foundation for achieving this goal, since these words can be used for either individual- or group-level behaviors, without clear quantitative definitions. Additionally, comparative approaches that reveal the evolutionary mechanisms generating diverse behavioral patterns among related species can provide useful insight. Through original experimental and theoretical research, as well as reviews on recent research progress, we aim to highlight specific research areas focused on discovering how diverse neural mechanisms underlie the flexibility of behavior across and within animal species.

We are specifically soliciting Original Research articles and Reviews that:

· Refine the working definitions of “stereotypy” and “variability” in circuits and behavior, and how these concepts should be incorporated into neuroscience research.

· Address molecular and physiological mechanisms that enable flexible behavioral outputs from a “stereotyped” neural circuit.

· Investigate the origins of behavioral polymorphism in an animal population with a relatively “homogeneous” genetic composition. The population of interest includes a laboratory animal colony with a known genetic background and a natural population under genetic equilibrium.

· Shed lights on the evolutionary basis by which species with similar genetic and circuit organizations diversify behavioral patterns. GWAS and other purely correlational studies are outside the scope of this Research Topic.

· Address how the nervous system uses experience and internal states to optimize behavior. Disease models are outside the scope of this Research Topic.

· Investigate, through theory and/or experiments, how behavioral variability can be beneficial for individuals and species.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

15 March 2021 Abstract
15 September 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

15 March 2021 Abstract
15 September 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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