The Lerner Lab studies the neural circuit basis of motivation, reward learning and habit formation.

We are interested in how individual differences in our neural circuits compel different types of interaction with the world. We are particularly interested in the neural circuits driving the release of “neuromodulators” such as dopamine and serotonin, as these chemical systems are the targets of many drugs of abuse as well as of many psychiatric medications.

What are the synaptic- and circuit-level mechanisms that generate neuromodulatory signals? How are neuromodulatory signals generated and distributed to the rest of the brain? What external forces shape the structure of our neuromodulatory systems to predispose us to disorders such as depression or addiction?

To answer these questions, the Lerner Lab uses behavioral studies in combination with optogenetics, imaging, electrophysiology, viral-mediated circuit tracing and other approaches to probe the natural range of individual variation in circuit structure and function and to correlate it with behavior. Ultimately, we seek to learn what neural circuit principles explain dynamic reward learning and decision making strategies in response to a changing environment and how we can employ these principles to better treat psychiatric disease.

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Talia Lerner

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