Wallis Lab

1. Neural implants to unlearn maladaptive associations

Lead Investigators: Eric Knudsen

Potential treatments: Addiction, PTSD, OCD, depression

When we are faced with a decision in our daily lives, how do we evaluate our options to make the best choice? How does our past experience and understanding of the world enable the learning and prediction of outcomes expected in choosing one option over another? The neural processing giving rise to these complex behaviors is at the center of this project. Here, we study how the frontolimbic network of the brain organizes, shapes, and exploits reward information in learning and exploiting valuable stimuli in the environment.

We study how orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) activity evolves during reinforcement learning, and how this evolution is facilitated and supported by other brain regions, including the basal ganglia and the hippocampus. Our experiments to date have revealed a crucial role for low-frequency oscillations in OFC, without which are unable to maintain behavioral flexibility in dynamic environments. We seek to develop methods for manipulating this network activity as a potential treatment for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Understanding how this complex network of distributed brain regions gives rise to cognition is critical to our understanding of how aberrant network states give rise to neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction, major depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Despite affecting a large population of individuals worldwide, costing billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity annually, current methods for treating these conditions rely on relatively crude brain manipulations. Through this study, we aim to develop the tools necessary to drive aberrant network activity back to more normal function.

This project is being developed in collaboration with the other faculty in the Center for Neural Engineering and Prostheses.