My research focuses on neural mechanisms underlying visually guided behavior. We study these mechanisms in the mouse model, where we combine optogenetics with extracellular electrophysiology. We seek to develop experimental paradigms that allow fine-grained analyses of behavior, and relate activity in cortical and sub-cortical structures to the animal’s performance.
Traditionally, early sensory areas, like the primary visual cortex (V1), have been considered as simple feature detectors, isolated from an animal’s behavioral goals. Work over the last decades, however, has radically changed this view: In humans and animals, neural activity in sensory areas is modulated by the focus of attention, by the difficulty of the perceptual task, or by reward expectancy. In addition, work on the neural substrates of learning has demonstrated substantial learning-induced plasticity in sensory cortices. Together, these findings convincingly demonstrate that responses of neurons in sensory areas are very dynamic and reflect far more than just the physical properties of the stimulus. A central goal goal of our work is to characterize the neural representation of a stimulus in visual cortex, and study how this representation depends on the stimulus’ behavioral relevance.