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Recent Publications & Preprints

The interpretation of computational model parameters depends on the context

Reinforcement Learning (RL) models have revolutionized the cognitive and brain sciences, promising to explain behavior from simple conditioning to complex problem solving, to shed light on developmental and individual differences, and to anchor cognitive processes in specific brain mechanisms. However, the RL literature increasingly reveals contradictory results, which might cast doubt on these claims. We hypothesized that many contradictions arise from two commonly-held assumptions about computational model parameters that are actually often invalid: That parameters generalize between contexts (e.g. tasks, models) and that they capture interpretable (i.e. unique, distinctive) neurocognitive processes. To test this, we asked 291 participants aged 8–30 years to complete three learning tasks in one experimental session, and fitted RL models to each. We found that some [...]

The maturation of exploratory behavior in adolescent Mus spicilegus on two photoperiods

Dispersal from the natal site or familial group is a core milestone of adolescent development in many species. A wild species of mouse, Mus spicilegus, presents an exciting model in which to study adolescent development and dispersal because it shows different life history trajectory depending on season of birth. M. spicilegus born in spring and summer on long days (LD) disperse in the first 3 months of life, while M. spicilegus born on shorter autumnal days (SD) delay dispersal through the wintertime. We were interested in using these mice in a laboratory context to compare age-matched mice with differential motivation to disperse. To first test if we could find a proxy for dispersal related behavior in the laboratory environment, we measured open field and novel [...]

Activation, but not inhibition, of the indirect pathway disrupts choice rejection in a freely moving, multiple-choice foraging task

The dorsomedial striatum (DMS) plays a key role in action selection, but less is known about how direct and indirect pathway spiny projection neurons (dSPNs and iSPNs, respectively) contribute to choice rejection in freely moving animals. Here, we use pathway-specific chemogenetic manipulation during a serial choice foraging task to test the role of dSPNs and iSPNs in learned choice rejection. We find that chemogenetic activation, but not inhibition, of iSPNs disrupts rejection of nonrewarded choices, contrary to predictions of a simple “select/suppress” heuristic. Our findings suggest that iSPNs’ role in stopping and freezing does not extend in a simple fashion to choice rejection in an ethological, freely moving context. These data may provide insights critical for the successful design of [...]

Transient food insecurity during the juvenile-adolescent period affects adult weight, cognitive flexibility, and dopamine neurobiology

A major challenge for neuroscience, public health, and evolutionary biology is to understand the effects of scarcity and uncertainty on the developing brain. Currently, a significant fraction of children and adolescents worldwide experience insecure access to food. The goal of our work was to test in mice whether the transient experience of insecure versus secure access to food during the juvenile-adolescent period produced lasting differences in learning, decision-making, and the dopamine system in adulthood. We manipulated feeding schedules in mice from postnatal day (P)21 to P40 as food insecure or ad libitum and found that when tested in adulthood (after P60), males with different developmental feeding history showed significant differences in multiple metrics of cognitive flexibility in learning and decision-making. [...]

Lab News

Dr. Wan Chen Lin

Wan Chen Lin received her Ph.D. in behavioral and systems neuroscience. Congratulations Dr. Lin!