My laboratory studies the neural mechanisms of learning. Our research aims to develop an integrated understanding of this fundamental brain function by systematically tracing learning from a sensory experience, through the neural encoding of that experience, to the induction of plasticity at specific loci in the brain, and the ultimate readout of the memory in an altered behavior. Toward this goal, we use a combination of behavioral, neurophysiological and computational approaches.
The model system we study is a form of learning that calibrates the amplitude of eye movements produced by the vestibuloocular reflex (VOR). As an experimental system, learning in the VOR offers many advantages: the neural circuitry mediating the behavior is well understood, putative sites of synaptic plasticity have been identified, and a key neural structure is the cerebellum, which is well suited for both in vivo and in vitro studies of the mechanisms of learning.
One current focus in the lab is to record from the cerebellum in awake behaving animals during the induction of learning in order to identify the neural "error signals" that detect a miscalibration in the VOR and trigger the neural changes underlying learning. Another current project is to study learning in the VOR of transgenic mice, as a tool for linking systems level analysis of learning with cellular and molecular analyses of synaptic plasticity.