2020 Sixth Annual Virtual BHI Symposium Keynote Speaker

Stan B. Floresco, PhD
Professor of Psychology and an Investigator at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

“Prefrontal-Subcortical Circuits Underlying Risk/Reward Decision Making”

We routinely face decisions requiring evaluation and choice of different actions may or may not yield different types of rewards. These situations trigger competitive decision biases that reflect interplay between different medial prefrontal/orbital cortex, amygdalar and striatal nodes within the brain’s dopamine system, which plays a critical role in action selection and reward processing. This lecture discusses some of the interactions between these circuits that shape decision biases and underlie conflicting urges when evaluating options that vary in terms of potential risks and rewards. Optogenetic studies revealed that phasic activity in subcortical circuitry linking the amygdala and the ventral striatum appears to promote choice towards more preferred rewards, and modify choices after non-rewarded actions.  These biases are modified by prefrontal regions exert top-down control over the amygdala to temper these urges when riskier options are less profitable. Moreover, prefrontal activity occurring prior to action selection or after evaluation of their outcomes can differentially influence decision biases. In comparison, chemogenetic studies probing medial orbitofrontal cortical functions showed that distinct projections to the amygdala, ventral striatum, or cortico-cortical pathways to the prefrontal cortex enable flexible decision making and integration of reward history to promote optimal decision biases  These findings provide insight into the dynamic competition between these cortical/subcortical circuits that shape our decision biases and underlie conflicting urges when evaluating options that vary in terms of potential risks and rewards.

Dr. Floresco received his BSc, MA and PhD from University of British Columbia. He completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh and then became a faculty in the Department of Psychology at University of British Columbia. Dr. Floresco’s research focuses on neural circuits that facilitate different forms of learning, cognition and executive functioning. Using rodents as a model system, his work has a particular emphasis on interactions between the different brain regions that facilitate cognitive processes, including behavioral flexibility, cost-benefit decision making and reward-related learning. His research integrates traditional psychopharmacological, in-vivo neurophysiological and neurochemical techniques along with newer optogenetic and chemogenetic manipulations to elucidate the interactions between the prefrontal cortex and its key subcortical targets. Dysfunction in these systems has been implicated in a variety of disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction. Dr. Floresco’s work attempts to model how the normal brain solves certain types of problems, and then use this information to clarify the mechanisms that may underlie the impairments in cognitive and emotional functioning associated with these disorders. Dr. Floresco has published over 125 peer-reviewed articles with >17,000 citations (H-index of 68) and has won numerous teaching and research awards, including the 2019 ACNP Efron Award for outstanding basic research. He is an Associate Editor of leading neuroscience journals including, Psychopharmacology, Brain Research, Neuropsychopharmacology, Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience and on the editorial boards of prestigious journals in neuroscience.