The Pedersen Brain Science Institute (BSi) neurocognition program studies a portfolio of complex neural systems and behaviors including touch perception, motor control, social behaviors, reward, mood and decision making.
In 2010, the BSi recruited three new faculty members — Dan O’Connor, Ph.D., M.A.; Gul Dolen, M.D., Ph.D.; and Jeremiah Cohen, Ph.D. — to the Department of Neuroscience to study these systems and behaviors in rodent models. Forming a collaborative group, their three labs investigate the underlying neural circuits and mechanisms using state-of-the-art techniques to measure and manipulate brain function.
These studies inform the development of potential therapeutics for several nervous system disorders including autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction.
The Cohen Lab studies neural circuits underlying reward, mood and decision making. We seek to understand how neural circuits control fundamental mammalian behaviors. Many disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, drug addiction and Parkinson's disease, appear to involve dysfunction of monoaminergic signaling. Using cell-type-specific tools and well-controlled behavioral tasks in mice, we aim to understand the function of monoaminergic circuits in behavior. We hope these basic discoveries will lead to an understanding of the biology of the brain and better treatments for disorders of the brain.
The Dölen lab studies the synaptic and circuit mechanisms that enable social behaviors. We use a variety of techniques including whole cell patch clamp electrophysiology, viral mediated gene transfer, optogenetics, and behavior. We are also interested in understanding how these synaptic and circuit mechanisms are disrupted in autism and schizophrenia, diseases which are characterized by social cognition deficits. More recently we have become interested in the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs for diseases like addiction and PTSD that respond to social influence or are aggravated by social injury, We are currently using both transgenic mouse and octopus to model disease.
How do brain dynamics give rise to our sensory experience of the world? The O'Connor lab works to answer this question by taking advantage of the fact that key architectural features of the mammalian brain are similar across species. This allows us to leverage the power of mouse genetics to monitor and manipulate genetically and functionally defined brain circuits during perception. We train mice to perform simple perceptual tasks. By using quantitative behavior, optogenetic and chemical-genetic gain- and loss-of-function perturbations, in vivo two-photon imaging, and electrophysiology, we assemble a description of the relationship between neural circuit function and perception. We work in the mouse tactile system to capitalize on an accessible mammalian circuit with a precise mapping between the sensory periphery and multiple brain areas. Our mission is to reveal the neural circuit foundations of sensory perception; to provide a framework to understand how circuit dysfunction causes mental and behavioral aspects of neuropsychiatric illness; and to help others fulfill creative potential and contribute to human knowledge.