While we have an increasingly fine-scale understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms of reward learning in animals and the brain circuits involved in humans, there is currently an explanatory gap between these levels of description. We aim to bridge these levels, using translational techniques that can relate real-time neurochemistry and neural activity to non-invasive, whole-brain imaging measures such as BOLD fMRI during reward-guided behaviours. See the "Resources" page for further details.
However, the cornerstone of our work is behaviour and the aim is to determine the relationship between neural systems and defined psychological processes. To this end, our experimental design is influenced by disciplines such as behavioural ecology, animal learning theory and neuroeconomics.
See the summaries below for examples of ongoing projects
Dopamine, value, action, choice
Our core research programme, funded through long-term support from the Wellcome Trust, investigates how to reconcile the different faces of dopamine during reward-guided behaviours. We using techniques that allow us to measure and manipulate moment-by-moment dopamine release as choices are made about which option to select ("economic choice") and about when to act and when not to act ("foraging choice").
Regulation of dopamine, cue salience and associative learning
We are investigating the behavioural relevance of dopamine regulation using a variety of transgenic mouse lines (e.g., GluA1 knockout, COMT-Met mouse). There is a specific focus on the relationship between targeted mutations, changes in associative learning and patterns of dopamine release.
From dopamine to BOLD via electrochemistry and electrophysiology
In a series of interrelated studies, we are investigating the relationship between neurochemistry (using FSCV and pharmacology), neural activity (electrophysiology), and haemodynamic signals (tissue oxygen amperometry and fMRI) during reward-guided learning.