The goal of our research program is to understand how cognitive functions are mediated by interactions of cortical and subcortical circuits. Our primary focus is to elucidate how the brain pays attention to motivationally salient stimuli and amplifies the associated cortical processing by engaging a key neural circuit in the basal forebrain (BF).
While studies of the BF have traditionally focused on its cholinergic neurons and neglected its noncholinergic neurons, recent studies from our laboratory were the first to establish that a group of noncholinergic BF neurons encode the motivational salience of attended stimuli, and potentially represent a key mechanism for attention.
Our laboratory combines multiple experimental approaches, including neuronal ensemble recording in behaving rats and mice, as well as behavioral, computational and optogenetic techniques. Our ultimate goal is to develop therapeutic interventions that can alleviate impairments in attention control in conditions such as aging, schizophrenia and ADHD.
Current research directions include: (1) determine the role of salience-encoding BF neurons in reward-based decision making process; (2) investigate how attention-related cortical event-related potentials (ERPs) are generated by BF inputs; (3) dissect BF neural circuitry with optogenetic techniques to determine the neurochemical identity of salience-encoding BF neurons.