Fanny Cazettes, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Champalimaud Foundation

Fanny Cazettes is a postdoctoral fellow at the Champalimaud Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal. She was trained as a biomedical engineer in Paris before working for two years as a research assistant at NYU Langone with Antonio Convit. She received her Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the lab of Jose L. Peña, where she studied how the brains of barn owls deal with ambiguous auditory information. In 2016, she joined the lab of Zachary Mainen as an EMBO- and an AXA-postdoctoral fellow and became a member of the International Brain Laboratory in 2017. Her current research focuses on the neural systems and computations underlying a repertoire of foraging decisions in mice.

Project: Neural computations and dynamics of flexible behavior

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to imagine different solutions to a problem and, when needed, make appropriate behavioral changes. These kinds of flexible reasoning may seem natural but they actually require: (1) learning what are the relevant variables on which to base the decision, (2) processing these variables in multiple ways to come up with different strategies, and (3) selecting a strategy to guide the final decision. How does the brain solve these complex problems and learn to adjust to new situations more rapidly than any artificial system? One possibility is that the brain’s ability to parallelize operations of decision processing gives rise to a reservoir of decisions readily available when environmental or internal states change. This project will explore this idea in mice by combining foraging behaviors in virtual reality, large-scale neural recording of multiple interconnected brain regions, and the latest technological progress for targeted circuit manipulations. In collaboration with theoretical neuroscientists, the team will develop innovative analytical methods and computational models to analyze and interpret rich naturalistic datasets. By bridging the understanding of neural circuit mechanisms and inter-areal communications with normative theories of decision-making, the goal is to identify the neural computations and dynamics that give rise to and control different forms of behavioral flexibility. Ultimately, this research will address multidimensional aspects of the decision-making conundrum, and perhaps lay the groundwork for explaining diversity in behavior, including pathological conditions characterized by deficits in behavioral flexibility.

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