How do specific neural circuits shape behavioral control?
The striatum is considered a central node for behavioral organization as it links neural circuitry that analyzes decision-relevant information to neuronal populations responsible for the execution of discrete behavioral responses. How do striatal circuits and their synapses support aspects of action selection and how does dysfunction of these circuits manifest behaviorally?
We address these questions through a series of increasingly complex behavioral assays — automated force-plate analyses of overall behavioral output, motor learning tasks and operant paradigms exploring goal-directed, flexible behavioral responding and response inhibition. In each of these paradigms, we aim to break down complex behaviors into discrete, measurable quantities to facilitate their correlation with the function of specific brain circuits.
Operant conditioning paradigm to study behavioral flexibility in a mouse model of autism. (A) Schematic of operant training box and important factors postulated to influence goal-directed learning. (B) Data from visual discrimination experiment (nosepoke in lit port is rewarded outcome) demonstrating enhanced accuracy in the Neuroligin3 R451C point mutant mice. (C) Behavioral flexibility, assessed by alteration in reward contingency such that an egocentric spatial cue is now rewarded, demonstrating impaired performance in Neuroligin3 R451C point mutant mice.