Dopamine, Cocaine, Drug Addiction, Motivation, Calcium Imaging, Optogentics
My research program is guided by two overarching questions:
- How do neural circuits integrate experiences with positive and negative stimuli to guide future behavior?
- How is information stored and maintained within specific circuits on a molecular level?
One of the most fundamental forms of learning is the ability to associate positive and negative stimuli with cues that predict their occurrence. The ability to seek out rewarding stimuli and avoid negative stimuli is critical to survival and is evolutionarily conserved across species. This process is one of the most critical processes that is dysregulated in drug addiction. Learning about environmental cues is a complex process controlled by a computational network of neural connections interacting with peripheral and central mechanisms to precisely guide neuronal activity and behavior. The interplay between peripheral factors - such as the immune system -, circuit-specific neuronal activity, and longer-term changes in transcription in defined cell populations is of critical importance in the expression of appropriate or, in the case of disease, inappropriate behaviors. Together, my research seeks to understand how information about stimuli is encoded in the brain. Developing new approaches to understand how activity-dependent changes are stored within particular cells and circuits will allow us to understand adaptive and maladaptive processes in reward, motivation, and associative learning.