Many of our everyday actions have an automatic character – they are executed in the same way, with little flexibility but also with little cost to scarce attentional resources. Optimal navigation in a world characterized both by abiding regularities and by unpredictable change requires both an ability to automate the routine and a flexible capacity to switch the autopilot off when unpredicted contingencies arise.
Dr. Pittenger’s laboratory seeks to understand these phenomena at a molecular, cellular, and network level through the production and analysis of genetically modified mice. Our efforts are focused on the role of the dorsal striatum (caudate-putamen) in several forms of habit-like learning, which we are able disrupt through perturbation of transcriptional regulation specifically in the dorsal striatum. Current studies examine the sometimes competitive interactions between striatum-dependent habit-like learning and hippocampus-dependent spatial learning during navigation, and on the role of specific populations of interneurons in striatal information processing.
Dr. Pittenger is also the Director of the Yale OCD Research Clinic, where his work focuses on better understanding the abnormalities of basal ganglia function that underlie the disorder and on the development of novel psychopharmacological treatments.