The primary research goal of the Z-LAB is to better understand decision making. Making a choice, independent of it being a complex decision about your retirement allocations or which flavor of ice-cream to pick, is the normative consequence of any behavior that is observable.
To understand this process, we combine a multitude of tools that allow us to study neural function of non human primates associated to decision making. We combine single cell electrophysiology, computational modeling of neural responses as well as careful behavioral analysis and ultra high field functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Specific projects are briefly outlined below.
Dynamics of Decision Making
Decision making is historically seen and analyzed as a stationary process. This means that every decision that is being made is treated as if it were independent of the history of all the previous decisions that the organism has made. We are interested in treating decision making as a dynamic process to understand how the history, the state and the context an organism is in influences the current choices that are being made. Additionally, we are interested in how an organism with its finite coding capacity uses its limited neuronal and metabolic resources optimally given the experience it has.
Networks of Decision Making
Decision making is a process that is known to utilize a multitude of brain areas at the same time. Currently, we have a very limited understanding of how these brain areas interact and what their individual contributions may be. Using ultra high field MRI (10.5 Tesla) that is uniquely available at the CMRR we are scanning the hemodynamic response (fMRI) of non human primates at unprecedented resolutions to find out how brain areas within the frontal cortex and subcortical regions are interacting to construct value signals that guide choice.
Freely moving electrophysiology in non human primates
The lab does not always capture processes in the real world with rich enough fidelity albeit providing experimental control. With our collaborators we have developed a highly unique large enclosure in which non human primates can forage and move around freely while we record markerless poses as well as obtain high channel count single neurons wirelessly.
How humans become addicted to substances, how our brain changes as a function of both becoming an addict as well as overcoming addiction is poorly understand at the network level. In a longitudinal design, we are investigating resting state fMRI networks changes related to cocaine and heroin addiction in mice and monkeys. These findings will provide a reference connectome of the addicted brain that can then motivate targeted inquiries and interventions.