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Title: Neural Mechanisms of Model-Based Planning in the Rat
Authors: Miller, Kevin
Advisors: Brody, Carlos D
Botvinick, Matthew M
Contributors: Neuroscience Department
Keywords: Animal learning
Decision making
Reinforcement learning
Subjects: Neurosciences
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Imagine a game of chess. As the players think about their next moves, they consider the outcome each action would have on the board, as well as the opponent’s likely reply. The players’ knowledge of the board and the rules constitutes an internal model of chess, a knowledge structure that links actions to their likely outcomes. The process of using such an “action-outcome” model to inform behavior is defined as the act of planning. While it has been known for many decades that humans and animals plan, we are only beginning to understand the neural algorithms of planning, as well as the neural circuits which instantiate those algorithms. Recently, a surge of research has been fueled by the development of sophisticated planning tasks for human subjects. This research has revealed important insights into the neural mechanisms of planning, but has been limited by the experimental methods available for use with human subjects. In my thesis work, I have adapted one of these tasks (the “two-step” task) for use with rats. Analysis of behavior on this task reveals that rats overwhelmingly adopt a strategy of planning. The rat two-step task therefore opens the door to investigations of the neural mechanisms of planning which combine the sophisticated tasks and formal algorithmic analysis traditional in the human literature with the precise tools for measuring and perturbing neural function that are available using invasive experiments in rodents. In a first experiment, I sought to test which regions of the brain are crucial for planning. I found that silencing neural activity in either the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) or the dorsal hippocampus (dH) while rats perform the task results in a planning-specific impairment, exposing these regions as promising targets for future research into planning. Follow-up experiments in OFC are ongoing, and their results suggest that it may play a role in making predictions about the future in the service of planned behavior. These experiments, and the methods that they introduced, open the door to new and more detailed investigations of the neural mechanisms of planning, in the orbitofrontal cortex, in the hippocampus, and throughout the brain.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Neuroscience

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