We study circuits in the prefrontal cortex in order to understand (1) how the properties of individual prefrontal neurons, their inputs, and their interconnections give rise to emergent patterns of circuit activity, and (2) how these patterns of activity contribute to both normal cognition and the pathological behaviors associated with neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. We believe that by understanding the process through which patterns of prefrontal circuit activity are generated, we can better understand the computations these circuits perform, and obtain a “map” of circuit function that will make it possible to identify ways of correcting circuit dysfunction in disease states.
Some of the specific questions we are interested right now include the following:
1. How are prefrontal circuits altered in diseases such as schizophrenia and autism?
2. How do neuromodulators such as dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine modulate prefronal circuit function and thereby regulate behavior?
3. What are the roles of various subtypes of GABAergic neurons, and of synchronized neural oscillations in circuit function?
4. How are different classes of neurons in the prefrontal cortex “wired up?”
To answer these questions, we carry out studies at multiple levels ranging from brain slices to freely behaving animals, and using a combination of techniques including optogenetics, computational modeling, whole cell recording, calcium imaging, EEG and LFP recording, and sophisticated behavioral assays.
We are also part of the DARPA SUBNETS team, and in collaboration with our partner laboratories, we are working to (1) identify large scale patterns of activity in the human brain associated with neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety and (2) design new forms of responsive brain stimulation in order to treat these conditions.