Learning complex motor behavior

The nervous system translates thoughts into actions, but the details of exactly how this occurs are unknown. The basal ganglia, once thought to be solely involved with movement, are now known to play a complex role in action selection, learning, and motor initiation. Many neuropsychiatric disorders (Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, stuttering) involve aberrations in the crucial step from the “desire to move” to the actual “movement.” My long-term goal is to address two fundamental aspects of motor behavior:
1) How do the basal ganglia contribute to translating thought into actions? We will record from the basal ganglia during complex innate (e.g., vocalization, grooming) and learned (vocalization on cue, pressing sequences of buttons) motor behaviors to better understand how the basal ganglia contribute to the learning and initiation of complex motor sequences.
2) What goes awry in diseases where the initiation of motor sequences fails? By exploiting the first genetic animal model of stuttering combined with computational, optogenetic, electrophysiological, and genetic approaches, I seek to uncover the neural basis of stuttering and similar disorders.