Institute of Biology II
 >> Molecular and Systemic Neurophysiology

The neural circuits of decision-making in virtual navigation tasks

How do we decide to turn left or right? Our brain constantly needs to integrate prior experience with current sensory evidence to decide about our next move. This complex behavior involves many brain regions and also many different strategies. To understand the underlying neural circuits it is therefore important to focus on a well-defined task and question. We investigate the neural circuits of decision-making in mice navigating in virtual reality. This allows perfect control over the animal and the sensory input. In previous work we have found that neurons in cortex are assembled in specific sub-networks, which encode complex features of our visual environment. We now focus on how this representation of the visual scenery is used for navigation and decision-making. The approach of our team involves combinations of electrophysiology, two-photon imaging and optogenetics in awake behaving animals.

In this way we record visual responses extending from targeted neuronal subtypes and sub-cellular dendrites to large neuronal populations. These studies are performed in awake behaving mice placed in a virtual reality to explore the role of visual cues in spatial navigation. Finally, the obtained experimental results are incorporated in computational model studies to further test our hypotheses on the neuronal circuits underlying decision-making.

Recording and manipulation of identified neuronal circuits during naturalistic stimulation and behavior is our key to tackle the complex computation in the brain.

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