Our overarching goal is to gain insight into the principles and circuit mechanisms underlying cognition and decision-making. In terms of topics our approach is multifaceted. A unifying theme is the use of cell-type and pathway specific perturbations to effect gain and loss-of-function for specific behavioral abilities. Taking advantage of electrophysiological and optogenetic techniques we aim to causally link the activity of specific neuronal circuit elements to behavioral actions.

Current projects:

Neural representation and behavioral impact of decision confidence

Previously we showed that many neurons in orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) signal decision confidence. We are pursuing these initial observations by trying to establish that confidence-related neural activity in the OFC is causally related to confidence judgments. In addition, we are studying how uncertainty may be used behaviorally to modulate learning and exploration.

Temporal coordination of activity between brain regions

How do brain areas dynamically coordinate their activity to produce coherent and seamless coordination of actions? We are exploring the hypothesis that oscillatory activity in the theta frequency range (4-12Hz) can serve as the basis for inter-areal communication. Our initial explorations focus on the coordination of sniffing, whisking and hippocampal oscillations. Longer term we're interested in understanding the principles by which neuronal ensembles interact across areas.

Functions of distinct interneuron subtypes in cortical dynamics and behavior

Linking identified cell-types with network dynamics and behavioral function has been a major challenge in neuroscience. Taking advantage of optogenetic techniques and combining them with electrophysiological recordings in freely moving mice enable us to reliably activate and simultaneously record from genetically identified classes of neurons. Our long-term goal is to causally link the activity of specific neural types and pathways to behavioral decisions.

Neural representation of social decisions and rewards

We would like to understand how social information is represented, computed and used by mice. In rodents, a main source of information for social decision-making and reward valuation is the chemosensory system. These circuits tend to be shallow, from sensory input to motor actions, and highly stereotyped, enabling the systematic dissection of this system.

Role of cholinergic basal forebrain in learning and attention

The cholinergic basal forebrain is a vitally important yet poorly understood neuromodulatory system that is thought to play significant roles in cognitive functions. Our goal is to understand its functions in learning and attention using a powerful combination of molecular genetic, electrophysiological, optogenetic and psychophysical techniques.