Dynamics of neural microcircuits during learning and movement

Research overview

Learning and movement are fundamental functions of the brain, yet many aspects of how these processes are orchestrated by various circuits remain elusive. Our group is addressing several open questions about the neurobiological basis of learning and movement in health and disease. Some key questions we work on are summarized below.

1. What are the dynamics of neural microcircuits during reward-conditioned behavior?

Our signature technology is a probe for recording the electrical activity of large populations of neurons. We rely on these tools to study the dynamics of cortical and basal ganglia microcircuits in behaving mice. Most of our work is carried out in mice trained on Pavlovian reward conditioning tasks. Lab members learn how to perform experiments with these recording tools (as well as complementary methods such as optogenetics and fiber photometry), and analyze data to examine dynamics and information processing in different cell types and brain regions. This effort allows frequent interactions with a vibrant community of UCLA researchers interested in computational and systems-level neuroscience.

Here we studied the temporal processing properties of corticostriatal network dynamics.

Here we dissected the contribution of different cortical and thalamic inputs to striatal activity.

2. What role does the activity of specific microcircuits play in reward-conditioned behavior?

We examine the causal role of specific microcircuits in behavior using perturbative methods such as optogenetics, chemogenetics, and pharmacology to activate or silence neurons or their inputs. This approach is highly synergistic with our effort to understand the dynamics of neural microcircuits using advanced recording tools.

Here we evaluated the role of parvalbumin-expressing striatal interneurons in Pavlovian conditioning.

Here we compared the contribution of dopaminergic neurons to associative learning versus online movement generation.

3. How is neural activity and information processing disrupted in models of brain disorders?

We use large-scale neural recordings to identify aberrant patterns of neural activity in models of disorders such as addiction, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease. Our work primarily focuses on activity in the striatum (including nucleus accumbens), and its cortical inputs. This is a highly collaborative effort, relying on frequent interactions with other labs at UCLA with expertise in brain disorder models.

Here we found correlations between frontostriatal network dynamics and drug cue-evoked arousal.

Joining the lab

We welcome new graduate students from neuroscience or engineering backgrounds with a strong interest in studying neural microcircuits related to learning and movement.