Motor skill learning and execution in a distributed brain network


March 29, 2017 - 1:00pm
Northwest 243/ Lunch at 12:45pm
About the Speaker
Steffen Wolff
Speaker Title: 
Postdoctoral Fellow
Speaker Affiliation: 
Ölveczky Lab, Harvard University

Our daily lives are full of activities requiring complex sequences of movements, whether it is tying our
shoes, serving a tennis serve or playing the piano. Our ability to perform these actions, often with little effort, depends on a distributed motor network. While many individual components of this
network have been identified, less is known about their specific roles and how
they interact during learning and execution of motor skills. We are addressing
these questions by training rats in a timed lever-pressing task that produces
complex and highly stereotyped movement sequences. We probe the contributions
of individual brain regions and their inter-connections by recording and
manipulating their activities. In my talk, I will show that the basal ganglia,
specifically the dorsolateral striatum (DLS), plays a central role in the
acquisition and execution of motor skills. I will further describe the specific
roles of cortical and thalamic input to the DLS in these processes. Together,
our results suggest a circuit level model of skill learning in which motor
cortex guides plasticity at thalamo-striatal synapses.