Our ability to learn and produce motor skills underlies much of what we do, be it playing instruments or sports, communicating through writing or speech, or simply tying our shoelaces. Yet the neural mechanisms that support these complex behaviors remain unclear. A major reason for this is a lack of experimental tools to follow changes in behavior and associated neural representations over the weeks-to-months long timescales relevant for phenomena such as motor skill learning.
To address this technical gap, we developed new methods to automate the collection and analysis of large, longitudinal datasets of behavior and neural activity in experimentally tractable rodents. These include an experimental platform to track the spiking activity of large ensembles of neurons in behaving animals continuously (24/7) over months-long timescales. I will describe how we used these tools to elucidate the role of the basal ganglia in the execution and stabilization of skilled motor sequences, and to uncover the trial-by-trial algorithms that drive learning in continuous motor spaces.
Ashesh Dhawale is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bence Olveczky at Harvard University where he studies neural mechansisms underlying motor skill learning, focusing in particular on the role of the basal ganglia in the execution of task-specific motor sequences. Ashesh did his graduate research on sensory coding in the olfactory bulb under Upinder Bhalla at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore India and in collaboration with Dinu Albeanu at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
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