Cognition often requires animals to dynamically generate internal variables that cannot be easily extracted from the immediate environment and transform them into adaptive behaviour. To gain insight into how this is accomplished, we have been studying rodents as they make categorical judgments of duration. In this task, rats and mice learn to flexibly map an evolving latent variable, elapsed time, to one of two actions. The basal ganglia are thought to be one locus in the brain where such mappings are learned, and we have found that neural population activity in a number of basal ganglia structures is necessary for, correlates tightly with, and exerts control over animals’ judgments and other aspects of their behaviour. My lab seeks to characterise the range of behavioral processes that contribute to task performance, to understand the algorithms and neural circuit mechanisms that support those processes, and ultimately reveal general principles underlying how the brain produces behaviour. In this talk, I will discuss experiments involving observations and manipulations of neural activity during the aforementioned task and how the results may help us understand how basal ganglia circuits contribute to aspects of decision making, action selection, and motor control.


Joe Paton received his undergraduate degree in Biology from Tufts University in 2000. After a brief stint as a technician in the lab of Bill Newsome at Stanford, In 2002, Joe started work towards his PhD at Columbia University in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Salzman, where he studied the neural mechanisms that underly learning about positive and negative value in the primate limbic system. In 2008, Joe received his PhD with distinction and joined the Champalimaud Neuroscience Program as a Fellow, becoming a Principal Investigator in 2012. At Champalimaud, his lab seeks to understand the algorithms and circuit mechanisms underlying cognitive behaviours, with a particular focus on temporal processing.  In 2017, he became an HHMI International Research Scholar and joined the Fulbright Commission in Portugal, as a member of its Executive Board. At Champalimaud, Joe has been the Director of the International Neuroscience Doctoral Programme since 2017, as well as Co-Director of the Cajal advanced summer training Course in Computational Neuroscience. He became the Director of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme in 2019.


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