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Sensory processing and internal states

A central principle of neuroscience is that sensory stimuli are represented as patterns of neuronal activity that ultimately giving rise to behaviors. Interestingly, even when a stimulus is fixed, such as the odor from a food source, behavioral responses can be diverse almost necessarily influenced by an assortment of factors ranging from the animal’s internal state to memory. These collectively determine which one of many possible behaviors will be selected. In the odor example, the decision to approach the food source may be influenced by the degree of satiety vs. hunger, the valence of the odor (were these odors “good” the last time they were encountered?), any memory the animal might have about lurking predators (a calculation of risk versus reward), or an efficient strategy for search the animal has learned. These are all examples of the array of information that gets integrated to select the “correct” behavior for survival in a complex world. The aim of this project is to dissect the structure and function of circuits that underlie this behavioral flexibility. 

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