Neural Mechanisms of Inferential Learning

2020 Seed Grant
Cody A. Siciliano, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University

Michael Lee Ciardullo Seed Grant

The ability to make advantageous choices in uncertain situations is a fundamental behavioral process that allows for maximizing positive outcomes while minimizing negative ones. Many species are able to streamline this process by applying learned strategies to optimize choices in contexts that have not been explicitly experienced before. This ability is referred to as inferential learning. For example, after getting sick from eating red berries an organism might be wary of eating any brightly colored foods, even if there is no explicitly overlapping features between the berries and newly encountered foods. Inferential learning is a fundamental cognitive process for many mammalian species, and in humans is dysregulated in several neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and addiction. Thus, understanding the neurobiological basis of this process is paramount to our understating of how the brain controls behavior, as well as the basis of neuropsychiatric disease. We propose to use a combination of optical tools in mice which will allow for visualization and manipulation of the activity of single neurons, allowing for observation of activity across initial learning and inference of the learned behaviors into new situations. Completion of the proposed experiments will shed light on fundamental questions in neuroscience and inform evidenced-based

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