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Decision-Making from Visual Cortex to Midbrain (VISION AND DECISION)
Start date: May 1, 2014, End date: Apr 30, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Every day, we make a myriad of movements executing decisions that are based on visual information. We want to understand how these decisions are formed in the brain, and how information is processed along the hierarchy of visual areas and in superior colliculus (SC), a motor structure of the midbrain. In primates, cortical visual areas progressively encode more complex stimulus features. But signals that reflect the percept in addition to the stimulus are already present at early stages of visual processing. Activity in SC controls eye and head movements, but might also have more abstract roles in decision-making reflecting task difficulty and performance.The neural circuit underlying these decision processes is not yet understood. Genetics tools to tag, monitor and manipulate active cells were recently developed for mice and can help unravel these circuits. This requires, however, that the role of various brain areas of the mouse in decision-making is solidly understood. To that end, we will train mice to perform visual decision tasks of different complexity and record the activity of large neuronal populations in cortical visual areas and SC using a genetically encoded calcium indicator. We will quantify in each area how strongly single neurons and the neuronal population are driven by visual stimuli in contrast to the mouse’s decisions and performance. We will compare the time courses of responses between areas, elucidating how different areas interact with each other. To probe the involvement of different visual areas in tasks of varying complexity, we will quantify the mouse’s performance while inactivating those areas using optogenetics.This project will track the representation of visual decisions across brain areas and across time, giving insights into the implementation of one of the most ubiquitous cognitive abilities. It will open doors to studies of the circuits and mechanisms of decision-making.

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