Vikram Gadagkar is an assistant professor of neuroscience at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute. He received his B.Sc. in physics, chemistry and mathematics from Bangalore University, an M.S. in physics from the Indian Institute of Science, and Ph.D. in physics from Cornell University. He then received his postdoctoral training with Jesse Goldberg at the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. Gadagkar is a Searle Scholar and a recipient of the Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award from the Society for Neuroscience, a K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health, and a Simons Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.
A major goal of neuroscience is to understand how the brain produces behavior. But to produce complex learned behavior, the brain first needs to evaluate behavior. The central question that drives the Gadagkar Lab is: How do brains evaluate behaviors — both self-generated and the actions of others? Gadagkar discovered that when a male songbird unexpectedly sings the right note, its dopamine neurons are activated; following song errors, these neurons are suppressed.
In other words, dopamine neurons evaluate the quality of one’s own performance. Male songbirds learn their songs with the ultimate goal of attracting a female but how do females evaluate the quality of male song? Gadagkar is now combining his expertise in neuroscience, physics and computation to ask how the dopaminergic error signal is constructed and used for motor learning as well as to establish a major new direction in his lab: studying the female songbird to understand how we evaluate the actions of others. His research has important implications for artificial intelligence algorithms as well as Parkinson’s disease and autism.