Anatomical studies have shown that the mammalian brain undergoes radical changes during adolescence, particularly in the frontal lobe, which integrates sensory and memory systems and coordinates flexible decision-making. We are focused on understanding the adolescent transition at the synaptic, circuit, and behavioral level. In particular, we want to understand:
How adolescent experience with drugs of abuse and natural reinforcers, such as food, alters neural circuitry and decision-making over the lifespan, and how neural plasticity can be harnessed to reverse addiction.
Long-range orbitofrontal and amygdala axons show divergent patterns of maturation in the frontal cortex across adolescence
The adolescent transition from juvenile to adult is marked by anatomical and functional remodeling of brain networks. Currently, the cellular and synaptic level changes underlying the adolescent transition are only coarsely understood. Here, we use two-photon imaging to make time-lapse observations of long-range axons that innervate the frontal cortex in the living brain. We labeled cells in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) and imaged their axonal afferents to the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC). We also imaged the apical dendrites of dmPFC pyramidal neurons. Images were taken daily in separate cohorts of juvenile (P24–P28) and young adult mice (P64–P68), ages where we have previously discovered differences in […]
Rules encompass cue-action-outcome associations used to guide decisions and strategies in a specific context. Subregions of the frontal cortex including the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) are implicated in rule learning, although changes in structural connectivity underlying rule learning are poorly understood. We imaged OFC axonal projections to dmPFC during training in a multiple choice foraging task and used a reinforcement learning model to quantify explore–exploit strategy use and prediction error magnitude. Here we show that rule training, but not experience of reward alone, enhances OFC bouton plasticity. Baseline bouton density and gains during training correlate with rule exploitation, while bouton loss correlates with exploration and […]
David Piekarski was recently granted the New Investigator Award at the 2016 Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (SBN) meeting in […]
My colleague Professor Alison Gopnik discusses the Wilbrecht Lab’s work in the Wall Street Journal this week. Gopnik’s article […]
Christopher Bergland, How Does Your Brain Learn Through Trial and Error? Problem-solving and critical thinking can rewire the orbitofrontal […]