Our lab investigates the neural circuits that underlie the regulation of behavior by cognition and emotion. We are interested in understanding how internal state and environmental structure shape the functional operation of neural circuits, and how behavior is organized to enable adaptive balancing of behavioral priorities between short and long timescales.
Many of our research projects are focused on the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and the dopaminergic ventral tegmental area (VTA) and their inputs and outputs. These small brainstem nuclei send projections widely throughout the brain and are in a prime position to globally influence brain state. Neural activity in these regions represents factors such as expected reward, reward prediction error, stress, and arousal. What kind of information is transmitted to these nuclei, and how is this information used to construct these representations? How do these nuclei influence downstream neural signaling? What behavioral and cognitive consequences result from changes in afferent and efferent information flow?
To address these questions, we use an observational and causal approach, combining monitoring and decoding of neural activity with control of defined circuit elements. The lab employs a multidisciplinary approach combining imaging, optogenetics, anatomy, high-density freely moving neurophysiology, patch clamp electrophysiology, behavior, and computation.
"In the present state of our knowledge, we must attribute an overwhelming influence on actual behavior to ill-defined factors of attention, set, volition, and caprice. If we accept the narrower definitions, then behavior is lawful by definition (if it consists of responses); but this fact is of limited significance, since most of what the animal does will simply not be considered behavior" --Noam Chomsky, A Review of B.F. Skinner's 'Verbal Behavior'
"What is essential is invisible to the eye" --Antoine de Saint-Exupery