Our lab focuses on identifying and characterizing the large-scale neural networks that control basic physiological processes, including the generation of motivated behavior. We make use of contemporary neurobiological tools to unveil the causal links between neuronal pathways and mammalian physiology.
Our long-term objective is that these basic studies may generate novel targets for peripheral and brain stimulation therapies. We are particularly interested in engendering novel stimulation targets for affective (e.g. depression) and motor (e.g. Parkinson’s) disorders.
Visceral signals and Reward
We specifically focus on body-brain relationships. On one hand, we have been exploring how the brain senses the body that is attached to it. We have concentrated on the gut-brain axis, emphasizing the major role played by the vagus nerve in communicating nutritional signals to reward neurons in basal ganglia. Future work should direct our attention to other visceral organs.
Neural Control of Motivated Motor Behavior
Conversely, we also study how brain networks harmoniously recruit peripheral organs and muscles in order to generate volitional actions. Using predatory hunting as a model, we have previously described how locomotor and craniofacial neural networks are integrated to generate a complex natural behavior. Our current studies direct our attention to previously unexplored basal ganglia circuitries and how they relate to volitional locomotion and postural adjustments.
Han et al. (2017). Integrated Control of Predatory Hunting by the Central Nucleus of the Amygdala. Cell 168(1-2):311-324.
Tellez et al. (2016) Separate Circuitries Encode the Hedonic and Nutritional Values of Sugar. Nature Neuroscience 19(3):465-70.
Han et al. (2016) Striatal Dopamine Links Gastrointestinal Rerouting to Altered Sweet Appetite. Cell Metabolism 23(1):103-12.
Tellez et al. (2013) A gut lipid messenger links excess dietary fat to dopamine deficiency. Science 341:800-2.