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Virtual Seminar: Dopamine Circuits in Reward and Aversion

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Stephan Lammel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Neurobiology
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
University of California, Berkeley

Virtual Pioneers in Biomedical Research Seminar: Dopamine Circuits in Reward and Aversion

Oct. 15, 2021 

11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.


About this Seminar

The pursuit of reward and avoidance of pain might be one of the oldest ideas in the history of thought about behavior of organism. Indeed, learning to adapt to a constantly changing environment through reward and punishment is essential for survival of an organism. Midbrain dopamine neurons encode reward prediction errors which is thought to reinforce actions that are triggered by rewarding stimuli. However, whether dopamine acts as a unitary ‘reward signal’ has been controversial for decades. Dr. Lammel's research has sought to clarify this controversy by demonstrating that dopamine neurons can be divided into a much larger number of anatomically and functionally distinct cell populations (Lammel et al., 2008, 2011, 2015; Neuron; Lammel et al., 2012; Nature; Yang et al., 2018; Neuron). In his presentation, Dr. Lammel will discuss recent work in which his lab provided the first incontrovertible evidence for a distinct, identifiable subset of dopamine neurons that are activated by aversive stimuli and cues that predict them (de Jong et al., 2019; Neuron). Moreover, he will discuss unpublished data showing how his lab developed an approach that allows his team to perform large scale electrophysiological recordings (via ‘Neuropixels’) from optogenetically identified dopamine neurons in mice performing a reward seeking task. Dr. Lammel's work reveals a previously unknown complexity in the dopamine system that is critical for explaining key aspects of reinforcement learning and motivated behavior.

Additional Details

This is a free event hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and co-sponsored by the institute's Addiction Recovery Research Center and the Center for Health Behaviors Research. The Pioneers in Biomedical Research Seminar Series, which runs annually from September to May, has featured leading biomedical researchers from throughout the country since the program began in 2012. The lectures are also open to all members of the Virginia Tech community including graduate students, undergraduates, faculty, and staff, as well as the public.

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