DEPARTMENT of PSYCHOLOGY
2022-2023 Psychology Department
Oregon Health and Science University
“Translation of Anxiety into Actions by
Prefrontal Cortex and Dopamine Neurons”
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been dubbed the “doer cortex” with a primary role of representing and selecting purposeful actions. In the context of psychiatric disorders, much of the neuronal data and computational work on the PFC encoding of behavior focuses on the representation (or perception) of internal and external events that precede these actions. We have been interested in the encoding of goal-directed actions by PFC neurons and how it is affected by anxiety. The focus on anxiety stems from the fact that its relevance to mental health extends well beyond anxiety disorders. Critically, anxiety is a debilitating symptom of most psychiatric disorders including PTSD, major depression, autism, schizophrenia and addictive disorders. Anxiety is often studied as a stand-alone construct in laboratory animals using tasks that focus on fear response. But in the context of coping with real-life anxiety, its negative impacts extend beyond aversive feelings to involve disruptions in ongoing goal-directed behaviors and cognitive functioning. I will present data from two behavioral models of anxiety that allowed us to record from the PFC and midbrain dopamine neurons area during reward-guided goal-directed behaviors and how diazepam or psilocybin influence these neural responses. We find that anxiety diminishes the recruitment of action encoding neurons and influences the coordinated activity between PFC and dopamine neurons. These results provide mechanistic insight for how anxiety influences reward-guided behavior and suggest that encoding of actions, as opposed to cues or outcomes, by PFC and dopamine neurons as particularly vulnerable to anxiety.
Friday, April 14, 2023
390 Gilmer Hall