Brain-wide Circuits Underlying Behavior

The neurons involved in producing any behavior are distributed widely across the brain. Yet, simple questions about the organization of activity across the brain during behavior remain unknown.

How do widely distributed circuits coordinate their activity to generate successful behaviors?

Does information flow from the sensory periphery to motor output in a serial stream, or do multiple areas process it cooperatively in unison?

To answer these questions, we require methods for simultaneously observing the activity of many individual neurons across the brain at high temporal resolution. Such methods will allow us to form a functional map showing when, where, and how behaviorally relevant information is processed during perception, decision- making, and action execution. This strategy will allow a paradigm shift in neuroscience: we may go from the study of particular brain regions to the study of complete behaviors, across all brain regions that cooperatively give rise to them.

To address this need, my colleagues and I have developed the use of “Neuropixels” probes, next-generation electrode arrays that enable recording simultaneously from thousands of sites across many brain regions in behaving mice (Jun*, Steinmetz*, et al., Nature, 2017). We are combining this recording technology with a sophisticated behavioral paradigm (Burgess et al, Cell Reports, 2017), enabling us to assess the correlates of visual perception, decision-making, response execution, and rewards in individual neurons from dozens of brain regions. We are furthermore extending this approach by employing widefield calcium imaging and systematic optogenetics. Togehter, these techniques will enable us to answer new questions about the globally coordinated neuronal activity that generates mammalian behavior.
A sagittal slice of a mouse brain depicting several major brain systems and the complex recurrent loops between them. Recurrent loops also exist within these structures. As a consequence of such loops, the flow of information through the brain cannot be predicted a priori.