How Neural Activity Shapes Decision Making: An Optogenetic Investigation of the Neural Basis of Mate Choice in Female Songbirds
thesisposted on 12.05.2017, 00:00 by Sarah E. Maze
The intent of this project is to gain new insight into the neural circuitry that underlies decision making through understanding the connection between sensory perception and motor action. This investigation further seeks to identify whether optogenetic manipulation of specific neurons results in a change in mate choice. In defining this connection, the end goal is to combat deleterious decision making behavior in humans, such as drug addiction. Female Bengalese finches (BFs) provide an accessible model in which to investigate the neural mechanisms of behavior. Previous studies reveal that activity in the caudal portion of the mesopallium (CM) in the female BF brain may play an important role in mate preference, and we hypothesize that increased activity in CM will increase female preference for male song. Through viral-mediated expression of light-sensitive channels within CM, we can stimulate action potentials within the region. After optogenetic manipulation, we expected that increased activity in CM through light stimulation would result in increased preference for songs with which the light was paired. We used a well-established protocol10 to identify each female's baseline mate preference and compared it with each individual's preference post-surgery and after optogenetic manipulation. Results identify CM as a major contributor to the decision making pathway that underlies mate preference and bring to light novel projections from CM which may also play a role. Once this pathway is fully mapped, parallels may be drawn in the human nervous system, and these pathways may be targeted with specific pharmaceutical therapies to treat behavioral anomalies.