Sensory feedback - sensory activity generated in response to one's own movements - enables us to learn complex athletic and musical skills. Sensory feedback also enables learning of complex social skills, including speech, language and other culturally transmitted behaviors. In addition to sensory feedback, the cultural transmission of behavior depends on sensory experience of a behavioral model afforded by another individual. Despite the central importance of culturally transmitted behaviors to normal human function, how these two types of experience act in the brain to enable behavioral learning remains poorly understood. The overarching aim of this proposal is to use high resolution imaging methods combined with genetic and physiological methods to study how experience of a behavioral model and sensory feedback affect the properties of neural circuits essential to the learning and execution of complex, culturally transmitted motor sequences. The significance of the proposed research to the NIH mission is four fold. First, this research is relevant to understanding how electrical stimulation and genetic methods can be used to manipulate sensory feedback signals important to learned behaviors. Second, this research can improve our understanding of how loss of sensory input affects the function of sensorimotor circuits that control learned behaviors. Third, these studies can inform the design of artificial neural circuits that in the future are likely to provide a therapeutic avenue to restore brain function. Fourth, by examining the effects of instructive experience on sensorimotor circuits in the naive juvenile, these studies can identify features of the developing nervous system that facilitate learning.
The proposed research will blend high resolution neuronal imaging and electrical recording with focal brain stimulation and viral genetic methods to determine how sensory signals are harnessed to learn and maintain complex motor sequences.
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