Heather Decot

Research Mentor:

Garrett Stuber

Clinical Co-mentor:

John Gilmore

Home Department Neurobiology
Project Description My proposed dissertation project will determine how the selective activation of dopamine (DA) neurons within the midbrain alters the functional connectivity between these neurons and their postsynaptic target regions, as well as global patterns of brain connectivity. To address this, we will couple optogenetic stimulation techniques with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology in an in vivo rat model to selectively activate DA neuron cell bodies in the ventral midbrain as well as their synaptic terminals within forebrain targets. One important aim of this project is to provide novel mechanistic insight into how DA neuromodulation promotes or suppresses functional connectivity within the brain using non-biased, high throughput imaging techniques. This pairing of cutting-edge methodologies will provide important and potentially clinically relevant insight into the fundamental neural circuit mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric illness, of which extremely little is currently known but is critical information to guide the development of more effective treatments and therapeutics for these disabling diseases. It is my hope that this research may significantly enhance our understanding of how dopamine signaling alters functional connectivity in disease states such as schizophrenia.