Anita Disney, PhD, PI
Our sensory systems are not passive recipients of incoming data, they process information in a highly context-dependent fashion. We know, for example, that sensory responses are influenced by factors such as arousal level and attentive state, behavioral context, and reward contingencies. Faced with dynamic external contexts and internal drives, the brain must flexibly filter, recruit, integrate and modify the activity of local cortical circuits in order to effectively process inputs and produce adaptive behaviors. Chemical modulation (also known as neuromodulation) of cortical circuits by subcortical nuclei is one means by which these challenges can be met.
The goal of the research in the Disney Lab is to determine the role(s) that neuromodulators play in cognition – and by what circuit mechanisms they subserve those functions. Our primary focus is on the noradrenergic, serotonergic and cholinergic systems in the neocortex of mammals. The techniques employed in the lab are diverse: we use a biosensor that combines classical electrophysiological recording capabilities with the ability to measure the local chemical environment at high spatial and temporal resolution; we combine electrophysiological recording with pharmacological manipulation to examine causal relationships between neuromodulation, neuronal activity and behavioral performance; and we study the structure of neuromodulatory systems in the neocortex from a comparative perspective at both the light and electron microscopic levels.