Neurobiology of decision-making and cognition

Our laboratory is interested in identifying the neurobiological principles underlying cognition and decision-making. We use a reductionist approach, distilling behavioral questions to quantitative behavioral tasks for rats and mice that enable the monitoring and manipulation of neural circuits supporting behavior. Employing state-of-the-art electrophysiological techniques we first seek to establish the neural correlates of behavior and then use molecular and optogenetic manipulations to systematically dissect the underlying neural circuits.

Given the complexity of animal behavior and the dynamics of neural networks that produce it, our studies require quantitative analysis and theoretical models. We have also begun to incorporate human psychophysics to validate our behavioral observations in rodents by linking them with analogous behaviors in human subjects.

In terms of topics our approach is multifaceted, currently we study: (i) the roles of uncertainty in decision-making; (ii) the division of labor among cell-types in prefrontal cortex; (iii) how the cholinergic system supports learning and attention; and (iv) social decisions that rely stereotyped circuits. A unifying theme is the use of cell-type and pathway-specific perturbations to effect gain and loss of function for specific behavioral abilities. Through such manipulations of genetically and anatomically defined neuronal elements we hope to identify fundamental principles of neural circuit function that will be useful for developing therapies for diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, and autism spectrum disorder.