This project will investigate the systems-level mechanisms of reinforcement learning as applied towards attention and visual-motor associative learning. We will use cross-areal neuronal recordings as well as combined cortical and subcortical stimulation in awake, behaving macaques to study prefrontal-striatal interactions during learning, and to drive attention and learning. We will record simultaneously in the lateral prefrontal cortex and striatum while animals perform an online learning task, to characterize learning-related changes in their correlated activity. We predict that learning will modify the magnitude or nature of these interactions. Furthermore, we will attempt to drive visual-spatial attention and visual-motor associative learning through the application of microstimulation to the frontal eye fields and to the dopamine-neuron containing regions of the midbrain. We predict that such combined stimulation will synergistically potentiate neural responses in the striatum, and will produce learned (""""""""programmed"""""""") biases in attention and visualmotor behavior.
The frontal cortex-basal ganglia system is centrally implicated in diseases ranging from movement disorders (e.g., Parkinson's Disease), to psychiatric diseases, (e.g., depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder). Also, many motor and cognitive deficits resulting from stroke or trauma are attributable to damage within this system. A better understanding of how learning occurs through neural interactions across these structures will allow us to better characterize the underlying derangements of neural processing in disease states and to develop ways to augment functional recovery.
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