Xiaoyin Chen received a B.A. in biological sciences at Tsinghua University in China. He received a Ph.D.in biological sciences at Columbia University under Professor Martin Chalfie, where he was awarded the Kavli Award for Distinguished Research in Neuroscience. In 2015, he became a postdoctoral fellow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory under Professor Anthony Zador. Dr. Chen’s current research focuses on sensory perception. Combining traditional physiological and optogenetic techniques with sequencing-based neuronal projection mapping, he hopes to understand the circuit governing perceptual classification and decision at single-cell resolution.
“The Role of Corticostriatal Neurons in Visual Decisions”
A group of dots flickers across a screen as a mouse watches. The mouse is tasked with making a decision based on the pattern of dots—are there more dots in the upper half of the screen or in the lower half? If there are more dots in the upper half, for example, the mouse will indicate that by drinking water from a spout the left; if there are more dots in the lower half, the animal will drink water from a spout on the right. Such processes—using sensory input to decide upon an action—are fundamental to any animal’s behavior, including humans. Humans are constantly taking in sensory information and using it to guide our decisions and actions. However, the neuronal circuits underlying visually-based decision-making are unknown. In mice, it has previously been discovered that a brain region called the striatum takes information about sounds from the auditory cortex and uses that information to make decisions. These critical links between the auditory cortex and the striatum are called corticostriatal connections. Are corticostriatal connections critical to visual decision-making as well? Such a result would imply a general role for the striatum in processing not just sound information, but perceptual information from many senses—positioning that brain region as a hub of sensory-based decision-making. We plan to use our visual decision-making task to probe this very question. While the mice watch the dots flicker across the screen, we will use sophisticated genetic techniques to manipulate the activity of corticostriatal neurons. If, by stimulating or inhibiting corticostriatal neurons, we can nudge the mouse to make one decision over another, we will have shown a causal role for these neurons in visual decision-making. These results will have broad implications for how we think about sensory information processing in the brain.