Motor sequence learning in rodents

Studying song learning in zebra finches has provided us with valuable insights into how neural circuits underlie complex motor learning, but to what extent do our findings apply to mammalian motor circuits? And more generally: How does the mammalian brain acquire and produce complex motor sequences? Using the viral and genetic techniques available in rodent animal models, combined with electrophysiological recordings and old-school neural circuit manipulations gives us tremendous power and flexibility in manipulating and measuring from circuits involved in motor learning.

Our approach is to train rodents motor sequences using operant conditioning. Initial experiments have been very encouraging, showing that rodents can indeed learn precisely timed movement sequences. By manipulating circuit function using optogenetics, cooling, and pharmacolocial techniques, we will explore the circuits involved in generating learned movement sequences. This combined with chronic recordings from populations of cells within targeted circuits during behavior will allow us to describe at a mechanistic level how the mammalian nervous system acquires and executes learned motor behaviors.