Imaging the brain circuits required for new learning

Research Opportunity
Masters by Research, Honours students
Number of Honour Places Available
Number of Master Places Available
Department / Centre
Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health
Primary Supervisor Email Number Webpage
Dr Simon Fisher 0431025165
Co-supervisor Email Number Webpage
Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah +61 3 8344 1684 Personal web page

Summary Learning associations between actions and their outcomes is a fundamental cognitive ability that requires the interaction of neural systems mediating cognitive and emotional functions. This learning is critical for normal decision-making, which is central to healthy cognitive functioning and wellbeing. While it is known this learning relies on a neural circuit involving the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and dorsal striatum, the nature of how this circuit changes with learning is poorly understood. This project aims to investigate this circuit in mice, with cutting-edge in vivo cellular activity recording techniques as animals learn associations in a touchscreen chamber. Components of the circuit will be disrupted with genetically encoded inhibition tools to allow us to see how this critical circuit leads to learning and healthy decision-making.

Project Details

Learning associations between actions and their outcomes is a fundamental cognitive ability. Healthy decision-making, the capacity to decide between competing options given a particular sensory state, is a crucial component of cognitive functioning and wellbeing in general and is impaired in neurological disorders as well as in normal aging.

This learning is strongly dependent on the value and properties of the outcome to form the action-outcome association, and thus requires the interaction of neural systems mediating both cognitive and motor functions (such as the medial prefrontal cortex and striatum), and emotional functions concerning outcome type and value assessments (such as the amygdala). While we have good evidence these are required to work together to learn, we don't know how the neural activity changes in the circuit because of learning, and what are the effects of selectively disrupting pathways in the circuit.

Investigating this learning in an animal model allows a high level of experimental control and access to cutting-edge neural activity recording tools. We will use miniature head-mounted microscopes to record cellular activity changes in mice as they learn action-outcome associations in a touchscreen chamber. In this task mice learn to touch different parts of a touchscreen to achieve a sugar water outcome. When mice learn one action, the area required to touch changes and they must learn the new association. By recording neural activity during this learning, and while selectively inhibiting critical pathways (e.g., that from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex) we will be able to determine specifically how neural activity changes with normal learning and when in a disordered state).

Faculty Research Themes

School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry

Research Opportunities

Masters by Research, Honours students
Students who are interested in joining this project will need to consider their elegibility as well as other requirements before contacting the supervisor of this research

Graduate Research application

Honours application

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact a supervisor.

Department / Centre


Research Node

Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health

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