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Motor skill learning and execution in a distributed brain network

Date: Thursday, February 22, 2018 09:00 - 10:00
Speaker: Steffen Wolff (Harvard U)
Location: Mondi Seminar Room 2, Central Building
Series: Life Sciences Seminar
Host: Sandra Siegert

Our daily activities are largely built from complex sequences of movements, whether it is tying our shoes, serving a tennis serve or playing the piano. The ability to perform such actions, often with little mental effort, depends on the distributed motor network in our brains. 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. I am addressing these questions by training rats in a timed lever-pressing task that produces complex and highly stereotyped movement sequences. I am probing 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), play 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 and suggest a circuit level model of skill learning in which motor cortex guides plasticity at thalamo-striatal synapses.While these results provide fundamental insights into learning and execution of a single motor skill, real life is more complex. How does the motor network meet the challenge of learning many motor skills in parallel? Do individual skills influence each other? Does learning to play tennis affect my table-tennis skills? My previous results provide me with a foundation for studying these questions, and in my talk I will propose ways to study learning and memory in a broader and more realistic context.
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