To study actions is to study the way we do things, which is different than studying how we remember stimuli, or facts and events. Some actions are innate or pre-wired (like swallowing or breathing). Others are learned anew throughout life, likely through a process of trial and feedback. We currently focus on understanding the processes mediating the latter.
A growing body of evidence suggests that cortico-basal ganglia circuits are involved in action generation and selection, in skill learning, and in learning goal-directed actions and habits. We center our efforts on investigating the cortico-basal ganglia mechanisms underlying these processes using an across-level approach, from molecules to circuits.
We chose to implement this integrative approach in mice because they combine the power of genetics, a mammalian brain with canonical cortico-basal ganglia loops that can generate and propagate oscillatory activity, and the possibility of accurately quantifying simple behaviors like action initiation (with EMG recordings or using inertial sensors) and stereotypic skill learning, and more elaborate behaviors like goal-directed actions.