At the center of intelligent, rational, behavior is executive control – our ability to internally guide our actions towards a goal. My laboratory’s research aims to understand how the brain accomplishes such control. It is becoming increasingly clear that complex, cognitive, behaviors arise through the interactions between many brain regions. In particular, three brain regions are at the center of executive control -- prefrontal cortex, parietal cortex, and the basal ganglia. The goal of my laboratory is to understand the roles of these brain regions in executive control and how complex behavior arises through their interactions with each other and with the rest of the brain.
To pursue this line of research the lab takes a multidisciplinary approach utilizing cutting-edge techniques in both non-human primate and rodent models. We begin by designing behavioral tasks that isolate particular cognitive functions underlying executive control. We then combine these tasks with large-scale, multiple-electrode electrophysiology and optogenetic control of neural circuits. Large-scale, multiple-electrode electrophysiology allows us to record from hundreds of neurons simultaneously, providing understanding of the network level mechanisms underlying complex, cognitive behaviors. Specific circuit-level mechanisms are then tested using the precise spatial, temporal, and cell-type-specific control afforded by optogenetics.
Through this combination of techniques we are able to gain insight into the functions that are fundamental to the highest forms of cognition. Leveraging this basic understanding, we hope to begin to understand (and eventually treat) the disruption of executive control in neuropsychiatric diseases, such as autism and schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's.