What does this pathway do? Identifying basal ganglia control ensembles for decision-making and how they can go awry

Jonathan Rubin
Department of Mathematics
University of Pittsburgh

The basal ganglia (BG) are a collection of subcortical brain areas that serve as a hub for the reward signal dopamine and are believed to be involved in decision-making and action tuning. But the BG circuitry features various feedback pathways and loops, which complicate efforts to derive a detailed understanding of associated function. In the first section of my talk, I will introduce this circuitry and will also present joint work with Tim Verstynen, Cati Vich and our trainees, which applies statistical tools to the dynamics of a model BG network to predict how different components contribute to the decision-making process. In the second section of my talk, I will present work with Ryan Phillips, our neuroscience collaborator Aryn Gittis, and trainees in which we model the integration of two signaling pathways by BG output neurons. Our modeling explains surprising results seen experimentally and suggests how slow dynamic processes in the system can contribute to synchronization and oscillations and can affect decision-making, in ways that may be related to Parkinson’s disease.