History of Collaboration

The Center for Learning and Memory at the University of Texas at Austin is a premier research center created with the goal of combining the abilities of scientists in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology, psychology, pharmacology, engineering, physics, and computer science to solve important questions related to learning, memory and disease-related dysfunction.  Our collaboration, as a reflection of this goal, combines the cellular/molecular neuroscience expertise of Daniel Johnston with the systems/behavioral neuroscience expertise of Michael Mauk.  With our combined strengths we are identifying the complete circuit and cellular/synaptic elements required for trace eyelid conditioning.

The collaboration was born out of two key findings from our labs.  1- trace eyelid conditioning engages working memory-related mechanisms in the medial prefrontal cortex whose output is conveyed to the cerebellum via the pons, and 2- neurons that project to the cerebellum (via the pons) have intrinsic properties that may make them well-suited to participate in trace eyelid conditioning and other working memory-like tasks.  Together, we are identifying changes in the properties of pons-projecting prefrontal neurons that contribute to trace eyelid conditioning and the inputs that are required for these changes.  Currently we are using in vivo injections of vital dye tracers to target in vitro analyses of neurons that are relevant to behavior.   Theses studies will provide the future foundation for use of opto-genetic tools allowing for activation in vitro of the same neurons that were activated in vivo to support learning and the ongoing expression of that learning.