Felicia Davatolhagh, Ph.D.

University of California, Los Angeles

Felicia Davatolhagh is a first-year postdoctoral scholar in the Churchland Lab at Columbia University whose project focuses on understanding learning-related changes in neural activity. She received her graduate degree in neuroscience in 2021 from the University of Pennsylvania, mentored by Marc Fuccillo, where she worked on understanding how neurexin1alpha, a synaptic cell adhesion molecule implicated in several neurodevelopmental disorders, maintains synaptic function. Her postdoctoral research analyzes how learning is disrupted in the neurexin1alpha genetic mouse model and aims to identify circuits that may be particularly vulnerable to genetic perturbations. Felicia has benefitted from the mentorship of numerous programs (AMGEN scholars, NIH MARC, HHMI Gilliam) and is passionate about mentoring others in turn.

Principal Investigator: Anne Churchland

Co-Mentor: Max Melin

Fellow: Kaela Evans

Project: Learning is a dynamic process that engages multiple neural circuits across the brain. Despite our understanding of learning-related changes at individual circuits and behavior, how learning organizes circuits at a broader spatial scale remains unclear. To assess learning-related changes in neural activity, this project will use a combination of widefield calcium imaging and dense electrophysiological recordings as animals learn a visual-based behavioral task. The SURF Fellow will be involved in analyzing behavioral strategies throughout learning using video-tracking computational models of mouse behavior. The fellow will be able to explore mouse decision-making strategies during early and late learning, and how these strategies are represented in the brain. Additionally, the fellow can assist experimentally, gaining hands-on experience in mouse behavioral training. This project is a joint co-mentorship between a postdoctoral scholar Felicia Davatolhagh and M.D./Ph.D. student Max Melin.

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