Do neuronal ensembles of goal-directed behavior and habitual behavior change over the course of lever press training?

Min Ju Lee

Mentors: Victoria Hall, Nicole Calakos M.D.-Ph.D

Department of Neurbiology

Habitual behaviors are automatic reactions to a certain stimulus, which enables the brain to reduce cognitive load of performing repeated sequences. While habits can be beneficial, the process of transitioning between goal-directed and habitual behavior is necessary to act appropriately in variety of contexts. Neuropsychiatric disorders with impaired decision-making, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and addiction, are thought to involve an inability to shift between action control strategies. Still, little is known regarding the circuitry responsible for this transition. We hypothesize that there are neuronal ensembles specific to both goal-directed and habitual behavior. Targeted Recombination in Active Populations 2.0 (TRAP2) method was employed to selectively label neurons activated during goal-directed or habitual action strategy of lever press training. Images were taken with Zeiss 880 Confocal; analyzed using ImageJ to compare location and count of TRAPed cells across groups. Initial montages of the whole brain show different ensembles for habitual and goal-directed behavior in the sensorimotor cortices. Further research would involve capturing both ensembles in the same brain using immunohistochemistry. Our findings hope to elucidate the circuitry involved in action control to help us understand what happens when this adaptive process becomes maladaptive.

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