Ogundele receives grant to study the brain’s neural circuits, decision-making, and possible involvement in neurological disorders

March 02, 2022

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Olalekan Michael Ogundele, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and neuroscience atMichael Ogundele the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, a $548,445 grant to study neural circuits that govern novelty and context discrimination behavior. The NSF supports scientific studies that improve the understanding of organisms as integrated units of biological organization. 

Central to Dr. Ogundele’s study is the brain, an organ that stores, compares, and interprets information about the state of the body and how organisms interact with their environment. There is a wealth of information about objects, time, space, and events in the brain. However, the storage capacity of the brain and the volume of information that can be processed at once are limited. For this reason, there is a need for the brain to assign priority levels to environmental stimuli and to select what is most relevant at a given time point. If this contextual relevance process is disrupted, there will be an overloading of long-term memory, and information previously stored may become overwritten. To retrieve previously stored memory or learn new things, groups of neurons in multiple brain centers must communicate in a timely fashion.  

“The research project will address critical questions about our thought process in decision-making to enhance our survival. For example, how do we determine that a new hallway sign stating 'Wet Floor' is relevant for our safety? Understanding our environment depends on the detection of novelty in the environment and discrimination between various contexts based on their relevance to survival,” Dr. Ogundele said. 

To better understand how these brain connections detect, select, and store novelty, there is a need for concurrent measurement of neural activity in multiple brain regions when one discriminates or fails to discriminate between contextually relevant novel information. This research will investigate how a midbrain region impacts neural activity in the higher cognitive centers and the ability to effectively discriminate between novel contexts. Specifically, the research will focus on a group of excitatory cells that have been traditionally overlooked in the functioning of the midbrain region concerned with novelty learning. 

“This project is important because of its significance in furthering our understanding of the ‘normal brain’ while creating a premise for identifying novel circuits that could be involved in several neurological disorders," Dr. Ogundele said. 

The research will have broader impacts by elucidating the role of specific midbrain neuron types in learning and how their dysregulation can lead to neurological disorders. Lastly, this project is designed to increase participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by facilitating the training of students in cutting-edge techniques that can be applied broadly in biomedical science research and industries.

“Our understanding of the connections between different brain regions and the role of the ensuing neural circuits in adaptive behavior are still evolving,” Dr. Ogundele said.