To respond adaptively in a complex and ever-changing world humans and animals must make decisions that are likely to result in favorable outcomes. For example, should I travel early to the airport for a flight or will I just be wasting my time. Is it better to freeze or respond aggressively to a perceived threat? Should I have another drink and relax with my friends or call it a night? We use modern neuroscience methods to study brain systems involving medial prefrontal cortex, thalamus, and the basal ganglia that support adaptive decision-making. We study rats as a model organism for determining analogous systems in people. These systems have been implicated in dysfunctional decision-making in clinical disorders that affect many people, including addiction, ADHD, and schizophrenia.
The video below shows the task we use to test decision making by rats. We use moveable arrays of tetrodes to record the activity of single neurons while animals perform the task. This allows us to see which features of the task (e.g. lever presses, movement, choices, reinforcement, memory) are represented by the activity of individual neurons. We use several methods (lesions, microinjected drugs, chemogenetic receptors) to manipulate pathways connecting brain areas. This allows us to study how neurons in one part of a circuit influence downstream target areas. Navigate to the Research tab in the menu bar to learn more about the research we are doing!