In order to feel, think, move, and learn, different areas of the brain must communicate with each other through synaptic connections. The interactions between sensory and motor areas of the brain are particularly important for interacting with and reacting to the world around us. However, it is still unknown exactly how neural signaling from the sensory areas of the brain directly influence brain areas related to movement. The goal of this neuroscientific study is to understand how signals from sensory and motor areas of the cerebral cortex combine within a important subcortical area called the striatum to influence decision-making behavior in mice. Conducting the studies in mice allows for the use of innovative neuroscience technology for discovering the mechanistic basis of brain function on the level of synapses, neural circuits, and behavior. Classroom and outreach components of the project are designed to build on the technological and scientific themes of the research. A university course based on open source neurotechnology will enable students to achieve fluency in modern experimental neuroscience and skills they can use throughout their careers. The outreach program will strengthen ties with underrepresented minorities through international exchange with researchers in Mexico and through bilingual publications in a scientific journal for kids. Together, this project will advance our understanding and appreciation of brain function on multiple levels, from cutting-edge research and education to beneficial societal outreach.
The integration of sensory and motor information is critical for discriminating between different stimuli and making appropriate actions. This projects investigates how single neurons and neural circuits within key brain areas, such as the dorsal striatum, dynamically process sensory and motor input during behavioral performance and during learning. In the mouse whisker-related somatosensory system, axonal projections of primary sensory cortex (S1) and primary motor cortex (M1) combine at the level of the dorsal striatum, a structure known for its role in behavior through influence on the motor thalamus. The role of S1 in striatal function, and how S1 and M1 inputs combine, is unknown. Most previous work has focused on frontal cortex inputs to striatum, and therefore, our understanding of how sensorimotor integration takes place in striatum, and what its role is during behavior and learning are incomplete. The goal of this CAREER project is to determine the neural circuitries underlying S1 and M1 input to dorsal striatum, and to define their roles in behavior. The results will provide important knowledge of the distinct roles of S1- and M1-corticostriatal signaling in behavior. The education component promotes expertise in neurotechnology for undergraduate and graduate students, while outreach to underrepresented minorities builds on essential elements of the research program through international exchange and youth-focused bilingual publications.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.