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Aberrant goal-directed control. 

Alterations to goal-directed control are seen in many diseases. Our particular interest is in aberrant goal-directed control in the context of Alcohol-Use-Disorder. Goal-directed control over behavior is not a singular concept, but instead encompasses many contributing components and associated varied neural mechanisms. While some aspects of goal-directed control may be disrupted (as has been hypothesized in habitual alcohol seeking or use), others may be enhanced (as suggested by negative reinforcement theories of drinking to alleviate negative alcohol-associated states). We employ mouse models of alcohol dependence and examine specific behavioral mechanisms underlying goal-directed control that may be disrupted, as well as identify the contributing neural circuits and cell types. We do this in the context of alcohol’s effects on decision-making itself, as well as how prior chronic alcohol affects decisions around alcohol consumption

Plasticity of goal-directed control

We want to examine the contributions of plasticity at the cellular and synaptic level underlying goal-directed control. Of fundamental interest to us is that different behavioral computations will produce different patterns of activity. In turn, these different patterns of activity may recruit different plasticity mechanisms. Thus, behavioral computations must be considered in the pattern of activity and the recruited plasticity they elicit. We hope such identifications will help our understanding of brain plasticity as well as open up new targets for therapeutic targeting.

Continuous behavioral control

Experience influences one’s actions. Typical experimental paradigms often treat behavioral control as if it occurs within a vacuum. However, animals are not automatons simply responding to external stimuli. The aim of this line of research is to understand the behavioral and neural mechanisms through which one’s own experience is used for ongoing behavioral control. We employ continuous foraging models in freely-moving mice, and recently in freely-moving marmosets, where they self-initiate and self-pace their actions based on prior experience. Together with a technically integrative in vivo approach and computational analysis, we hope to uncover mechanisms through which such behavior is controlled and how experiences with alcohol can bias aberrant behavior.