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.
"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'