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The Neurobiology of Need. How does the brain encode motivations? The lab develops cutting-edge molecular and systems neuroscience approaches in order to understand the neurobiology of survival needs, such as hunger and thirst. These insights offer a foundation for treatment of major biomedical challenges faced by society, such as obesity and diabetes.
Our lab's research investigates how the brain controls appetite. We study multiple circuits throughout the brain to identify the specializations as well as the surprising overlaps of neural circuits that motivate goal-directed behaviors related to hunger, thirst, and stress. Critical to this effort, the lab develops cutting-edge deep-brain calcium imaging methods to build a rigorous, systematic framework for the cellular and molecular components of the entire sequence of appetite behaviors (food-seeking, consumption, satiety). Our goal is to use these detailed molecular and cellular models of appetite to develop mechanism-based treatment strategies for obesity and other neurological disorders.
Our approach seamlessly combines molecular and systems neuroscience. These technical approaches are pursued in the context of behavioral paradigms to deconstruct the motivational and decision-making properties of need-sensing neurons. Our current work is focused on deep-brain neuronal dynamics coupled to transcriptomic methods to monitor the detailed activity patterns of all the molecularly defined cell types in a brain region at the same time. By emphasizing dynamics of individual neurons, we can compare activity patterns across multiple behavioral states (e.g., hunger, thirst, fear) to determine the specialized or shared properties of the circuits. We have also developed many tools, especially chemogenetic tools, for investigating cell types in different brain areas as well as for developing more selective therapies for neurological disorders.
Our job is to imagine the future of research & therapy, not to simply extend what has already been established.