Our environment is constantly changing. Successful survival under these conditions implies that our behavior has to be flexible as well. We experience different places and contexts, have to conduct different tasks in a rapid sequence and need to constantly develop and re-arrange acting strategies. These abilities are not inherited, but develop with age and their regression forms the core of several pathologies. It is commonly held that in mammalian species the prefrontal cortex is the hub brain area accounting for the flexibility of minds (i.e. cognitive flexibility).

The Research Unit 5159 has been launched in January 2022. Our mission is to decipher the dynamic principles of prefrontal processing underlying cognitive flexibility.

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Title of the Lecture: Neural mechanisms of inference


We developed a novel temporal wagering task for rats, in which they reveal how much they value rewards based on how long they are willing to wait for them. The rats transition through blocks of trials (hidden states) that differ in the rewards they offer, and over training, rats learn this latent block structure, and adjust their behavior accordingly. We have found that inactivating the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) impairs their ability to infer the hidden state of the environment, but does not impair their ability to compute subjective value per se. Behavioral modeling suggests that rats specifically use a less informative prior when lOFC is inactivated, but other aspects of the decision-making process are intact. Electrophysiological recordings from lOFC reveal encoding of hidden states at the level of single cells and populations of neurons. These data suggest that lOFC promotes the use of a prior that incorporates knowledge of the task structure for inferring partially observable states of the environment.

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Pregnancy-induced maternal microchimerism shapes neurodevelopment and behavior in mice

Nature Communications, Issue 08 2022

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