If a stimulus has been associated with a rewarding event, it draws our attention, accesses our memory systems, and motivates our behavior. How do rewards alter neural circuits to shape behavior?
 
Although neural correlates of reward learning and decision-making have been identified in many brain regions, we only now have the tools to begin to understand how neural circuits perform the underlying computations. By integrating a wide range of technical approaches – optogenetics, rodent behavior, electrophysiology, imaging, molecular, and computational approaches – our lab is starting to provide new insights into the circuit-level mechanisms underlying these fundamental processes. Our long-term goal is to describe how individual neural circuit elements map onto the computational algorithms employed by the brain to motivate behavior.
 
The neural circuits underlying reward and motivation play such a fundamental role in supporting normal behavior that their dysfunction results in debilitating neuropsychiatric diseases. In particular, addiction involves the “hijacking” of the natural reward circuitry by drugs of abuse. Thus, we also study the circuit-level mechanisms underlying addiction with the long term goal of identifying new therapeutic avenues to alleviate the condition.

THE WITTEN LAB
neural circuits underlying reward and motivation