I want to know, "Why do people do what they do?"
Many neuropsychiatric disorders (e.g., addiction, depression, anxiety) are characterized by aberrant valence processing - or an imbalance between the motivation to seek rewards and avoid punishment.
For a decade, I studied the neural processes underlying various motivated behaviors. Specifically I want to know how the brain integrates information about rewarding and aversive stimuli, and how these evaluations are translated in behavioral output. If we can uncover how these processes occur in health, we can begin to understand how they become dysregulated in disease.
My main project utilized several state-of-the-art circuit dissection tools, including in vivo calcium imaging, optogenetics, electrophysiology and fast-scan-cyclic voltammetry, to answer the following questions:
- How do aversive stimuli influence rapid dopamine neurotransmission in the medial prefrontal cortex?
- Do projection-defined prefrontal circuits differentially encode rewarding and aversive stimlui. How does their activity influence behavior?
- How does dopamine regulate the activity of these diverse pathways to promote adaptive behavioral responses to threatening stimuli?