Our lab seeks to understand the neural circuits underlying cognition and behavior, with a focus on motivated behaviors and brain states. We use an observational and causal approach, combining monitoring and decoding of neural activity with control of defined circuit elements. Our primary current research goals are to determine how neural signals reflecting motivated behavior are constructed and used.
Many of our research projects are focused on the serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) and the dopaminergic ventral tegmental area (VTA). These small, ancient brainstem systems send projections widely throughout the brain and are in a prime position to globally influence brain state. Neurons in these regions encode quantities including reward prediction error, expected reward, stress, and arousal. What kind of information is transmitted to these regions, and how is this information used to construct these quantities? How do these regions influence downstream neural signaling? What behavioral and cognitive consequences result from changes in afferent and efferent information flow?
We investigate these questions by perturbing selected circuit elements and observing the effects on both neural activity and behavior. In pursuit of these goals, the lab employs a multidisciplinary approach combining imaging, optogenetics, anatomy, high-density freely moving neurophysiology, patch clamp electrophysiology, behavior, and computation.
"See first, think later, then test. But always see first. Otherwise you will only see what you were expecting." - Douglas Adams, via Rod MacKinnon
"And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good - Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?" - Socrates, via Robert Pirsig