Tanner Stevenson

UC Davis

“Uncovering the Role of Dopamine in Flexible Behavior”

In order to behave appropriately in an ever-changing environment, all animals must be able to change their behavior on the fly. This ability to behave flexibly has been linked to the neuromodulator dopamine through indirect measurement, gross manipulation, and computational modeling, but this link has yet to be directly proven. My project will address this gap in knowledge by directly measuring and manipulating dopamine and neural activity in rats using cutting-edge technologies as they perform a novel behavioral-flexibility task.

ABSTRACT

In order for animals to behave flexibly, the neural circuits driving their behavior must be able to rapidly change the information pertaining to the behavior that is encoded in the circuit’s activity. Conversely, when behavioral rigidity is required, these same circuits must instead maintain the encoded information in the face of distractions. Experimental evidence suggests that the neuromodulator dopamine plays a significant role in our brain’s ability to switch between these flexible and stable modes, leading to numerous theories of its function. However, dopamine’s role has yet to be directly proven. In my project, I will develop a comprehensive understanding of dopamine’s function in behavioral flexibility by directly measuring and manipulating dopamine and neural activity in rats as they perform a novel flexible decision-making task requiring subjects to either maintain or update the information held in mind for an upcoming behavioral response.
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