One of the most intriguing questions in neuroscience is how individual sensory, temporal, and emotional components of an experience are encoded into rich, persistent memories. Not only do these memories make up our personal narrative, but they are central to adaptive behavior. Healthy emotional learning allows us to predict and avoid danger and approach reward and safety. A distributed network of cortical and subcortical brain areas participate in successful memory formation, and dysfunction in these circuits leads to maladaptive behavior observed in a number of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and addiction. Our work seeks to determine how prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala functionally interact to form, store, and retrieve emotional memory.
Current research questions in our lab include 1.) How do prefrontal cortical regions participate in memory formation and retrieval? 2.) How does prefrontal cortex interact with the hippocampus and amygdala to regulate memory and behavior? 3.) How are memories updated in this circuit?
To address these questions, we use a combination of behavioral, systems, and molecular approaches to examine the neurobiology of learning and memory. Immunohistochemistry and targeted injections of pharmacological agents into individual brain regions allow us to examine the intracellular signaling pathways activated by learning or memory retrieval. Multi-channel single-unit electrophysiology and optogenetic tools allow us to record and directly manipulate unit firing with temporal and circuit specificity.