Research Research Projects

Investigating sequences: Integrated studies in humans and animals

We perform sequences of tasks, such as making a sandwich, every day. We have very little understanding of how the brain accomplishes these sequences. Broadly, we seek to understand how habits and motor actions are organized into sequences of tasks through research that integrates animal and human experimental models. Three complementary techniques allow us to span from complex human behaviors to individual brain cells in our investigations, and to go beyond the behavioral analogy that is commonly assumed across species in a novel manner: human neuroimaging and non-invasive stimulation, animal neuroimaging, and animal neural recordings. Understanding the mechanism for sequential control could have broad impact for brain health. No effective treatment exists for patients with frontal lobe dysfunction who are incapable of the everyday task sequences necessary for independent living. Common and debilitating psychiatric illnesses such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be thought of as a failure to control sequences.

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Human (left) and animal (center) functional brain imaging, along with electrical recording in animals provides insights into sequential control. Credit: T. Desrochers