Our Research – Overview

Neural Coding of Reward and Movement in the Basal Ganglia

Our research involves studies of neuronal activity in a region of the brain called the basal ganglia. Research suggests that these structures play a role in controlling movement, as well as mechanism related to processing rewards. Our long-term goal is to understand how individual neurons and neuronal circuits in the basal ganglia might be contributing and processing information related to these processes (neural coding). We evaluate movements and responses to cues related to drugs of abuse in both normal states and in animal models that simulate human disorders. Our principal method is to record electrical activity of individual nerve cells while animals execute either instinctive movements or learned movements in response to sensory cues. From this information, we study the computational properties of neuronal networks activated during our experiments. In these experiments we also activate neural systems by the application of dopaminergic drugs that are known to affect behavior. Currently, our efforts are directed toward examining neuronal mechanisms related to sequences of grooming movements, reward processing, and the effects of dopaminergic manipulations.

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