Chunyu Ann Duan, Ph.D.
Chunyu Ann Duan is a systems neuroscientist interested in understanding how complex neural dynamics produce cognitive behaviors on the circuit level. She is currently a group leader at Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London. After attending Furman University on a full scholarship and graduating summa cum laude in 2010, she went on to perform her Ph.D. work in neuroscience with Carlos Brody at Princeton University, supported by an HHMI International Student Research Fellowship. During her thesis, Duan developed a novel, rapid task-switching behavior in the rat to study executive control using recording and inactivation techniques. Contrary to the expected cortical control hypothesis, she found a more distributed network underlying flexible task switching and working memory, including the prefrontal cortex and the midbrain superior colliculus (SC). The surprising result that a reptilian brain region such as the SC plays an essential role in executive control demands an updated model of cortico-subcortical interaction during decision-making. It has also inspired Duan’s long-term career goal: to understand how interconnected neural populations work together to generate cognition. For her postdoc, Dr. Duan joined Ning-long Xu’s lab at the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and combined sophisticated rodent behavior with pathway-specific microscopy and perturbation methods to conduct functional dissection of different cortico-subcortical loops during decision formation and maintenance. Now, in her own group at Sainsbury, Duan continues to use theory-motivated behavioural paradigms and modern experimental and analytical tools to conduct large-scale, cellular-resolution investigations of neural circuit mechanisms for flexible decision-making. In particular, she aims to understand how decision-making is modulated by internal and environmental variables, such as risk preference and competitive/cooperative social interaction.