In September of 2012 I will join the department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. If you are interested in joining my lab, see the “Positions Available” Tab!
Many complex motor behaviors, such as speech or a cross court forehand, are not innately programmed but are gradually learned through trial and error. Learning requires motor exploration and the evaluation of subsequent performance. How are these processes implemented in the brain?
The basal ganglia (BG) are an evolutionarily conserved group of brain structures important for motor learning in a number of species, including humans. Inside the BG, there are local microcircuits made up of specific neuronal subtypes. The BG also interact with partnered microcircuits in the thalamus and the cortex. This important interaction is known as the ‘BG-thalamocortical loop’ and is implicated in trial and error motor learning as well as neuropsychiatric diseases such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and schizophrenia.
The goal of my research program is to understand in detail how basal ganglia microcircuits control motor learning and behavior. My approach is to generate theoretical models of BG function, and then to test these models by recording and manipulating the activity of identified neuronal subclasses in freely moving animals engaged in BG-dependent behaviors.