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Investigating how the nervous system learns and makes decisions in dynamic environments.
Goals and Approach
The Behavior group at the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics aims to understand how the nervous system learns and makes decisions in dynamic environments. They rely on carefully-controlled behavioral tasks in mice, together with measurements and manipulations of neural activity, and computational modeling and analysis to address key questions:
This group seeks answers at the level of cell-type-specific dynamics to develop theories that explain learning and decision making.
Developing theories of learning and decision making requires quantifying behavior. The Behavior group at the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics is developing behavioral tasks inspired by a rich literature on foraging. These tasks tap into the mammalian brain’s natural flexibility when faced with a dynamic environment. Tasks are built with open-source tools and allow this group to combine behavior with measurements and manipulations of neural activity. A key goal is to acquire a rich set of behavioral measurements that can be used to develop models of behavior and understand the underlying neural computations.
Neuromodulators such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are released by small numbers of cells (less than one-thousandth of one percent of the neurons in our brain), yet they broadcast their messages to most of the brain. In our “foraging” behaviors, the Behavior group at the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics is measuring and manipulating the activity of neuromodulatory neurons. They seek to understand their functions in learning and decision making, with a focus on their projections to key brain areas and their cellular diversity.
The mammalian brain comprises networks of neurons in several areas, including cortex, basal ganglia, thalamus, and cerebellum, that work together to generate behavior. The Behavior group at the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics is studying neurons in key nodes of this brain-wide network during behavioral experiments. This group seeks to understand how neurons of known cell type and connectivity interact to learn and make decisions.