Research

Active avoidance

We study avoidance behaviors in rats using a platform-mediated active avoidance task. Rats learn to avoid a tone-signaled footshock by moving to a platform located in a corner opposite of a food bar. Using single unit recordings and in vivo optogenetics, previous work has revealed that neurons in the rostral prelimbic prefrontal cortex (rPL) exhibit inhibitory responses to the tone that signal avoidability (Diehl et al., 2018 eLife). Moreover, optogenetically opposing this inhibition impairs avoidance, suggesting that an avoidability signal resides in rPL . Functional mapping experiments are beginning to reveal that the tone-induced inhibition observed in rPL projects to the ventral striatum (VS) to drive avoidance, whereas tone-induced excitation in rPL projects to the basolateral amygdala (BLA) to drive avoidance (Diehl, et al., 2019 SFN abstract).


Active avoidance under social conditions

Do rats learn avoidance differently in the presence of another rat? These are one of the many research questions in the Diehl Lab. Similar to learning active avoidance alone (above), rats learn to avoid the tone-signaled footshock by stepping onto a platform at the cost of access to a lever that delivers sucrose pellets. Two rats are placed in the same chamber to determine if rats learn more quickly under this social condition. The relationship between the two rats may also affect avoidance learning (if partner has previously learned avoidance or is naive to the task, if the partner is familiar or unfamiliar, etc).


Techniques


Single unit electrophysiology

Record single cell activity using multichannel electrode arrays in rats performing active avoidance and other behaviors

Behavioral optogenetics

Manipulate discrete brain regions or their pathways to determine neural circuits of avoidance and other behaviors