The difference between an expert's brain and a novice's

When mice learn to do a new task, their brain activities change over time as they advance from 'novice' to 'expert.' The changes are reflected in the wiring of cell circuits and activities of neurons.

Using a two-photon imaging microscope and a wealth of genetic tools, researchers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), Columbia University, University College London, and Flatiron Institute found that neural networks become more focused as mice got better at performing a trained task. They used the data to construct computational models that can inform their understanding of the neuroscience behind decision-making.

"We recorded the activity from hundreds of neurons all at the same time, and studied what the neurons did over learning," said CSHL Associate Professor Anne Churchland. "Nobody really knew how animals or humans learn the structure of a task and how the neural activity supports that."

The team, including Farzaneh Najafi, the first author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Churchland's lab, started by training mice on perceptual decision-making tasks. The mice received multisensory stimuli in the form of a sequence of clicks and flashes that were presented together. Their job was to tell researchers whether those are happening at a high or low rate by licking one of three waterspouts in front of them.

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