Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2018 New Investigator Grant

Eric Yttri, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

Cortical-Basal Ganglia Interactions Underlying Trial-and-Error Movements


The goal of the project is to understand interactions across different neurons, types of neurons, and whole brain areas that are responsible for how we learn and perform movements. The process of transforming thought into action is essential - whether it takes the form of walking, reaching for a cup of coffee, or playing with your kids. Despite its universality, we are only now beginning to understand the neural mechanisms underlying how we perform these actions. Two interconnected brain areas, the motor cortex and basal ganglia, are thought to be responsible for generating action plans and improving those plans based upon feedback, otherwise known as trial-and-error learning. To understand this process, we must determine the patterns of neuronal activity - which neurons, what brain areas, and when in relation to movement. Building off of our recent work (Yttri and Dudman, Nature 2016; Yttri and Dudman, Mov. Disord. 2018), our project applies novel genetic and physiological approaches (Jun et al., Nature 2017) to finally establish the genetic identity of the neurons comprising these areas and to record the activity from an order of magnitude more neurons than has been previously possible. We will perform these analyses in a mouse that is trained to make skilled reaching movement. The project will engage talented undergraduate and graduate researchers at all stages of behavioral, physiological, and computational investigation. Ultimately, our team aims to understand the critical contribution of each level of the circuit that enables the skilled behaviors we depend upon every day.

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