The goal of our research is to understand how different diets can change the function of basal ganglia circuits and how these changes contribute to obesity.
I am interested in the study of basal ganglia circuits and how their function changes in disease states such as obesity, addiction, and depression. Under normal conditions, the basal ganglia drives animals toward the selection of specific behavioral outcomes. Learning can bias this selection process toward specific behavior by altering synapses within and outside the basal ganglia. In extreme cases, these synaptic alterations can produce pathological behavioral selection, as in obesity or addiction. Using behavioral testing, optogenetics, and in vivo electrophysiology and optical measurements, the lab characterizes changes in behavior following learning in a feeding context and attempts to understand the neural correlates and causes of these changes in behavior.
Applying our Research
This research is expected to help the public in two ways. In a direct way, the circuits we are studying represent promising therapeutic targets that can help people change their feeding behavior and ultimately reduce obesity. In a less direct way, this basic science can help the public learn about the brain changes associated with obesity and understand why it is so difficult for obese individuals to change their behavior.
Need for Further Study
Despite ongoing research, it remains unclear how diets high in fat and calories affect reward circuitry in the brain and how to reverse such changes to combat obesity.