We perform sequences of tasks, such as making a sandwich, every day. We have to plan and execute a series of goals, in the correct order, and allocate attention accordingly in order to accomplish this. We also have to organize routine motor actions (such as cutting a tomato or slicing bread) and be able to adapt them to changing circumstances (such as getting a tomato from the refrigerator or the garden) or pay attention to only the relevant features (e.g. color when choosing a tomato, shape when slicing bread). We have very little understanding of how the brain accomplishes these tasks. Broadly, the Desrochers Lab seeks to understand how habits and motor sequences are organized into sequences of tasks through research that combines animal and human experimental models.
Dr. Desrochers became fascinated by the workings of the brain at an early age. This interest led her to pursue a B.S. in neural science and science education at NYU. It was there as an undergraduate in Dr. Joseph LeDoux’s lab where Dr. Desrochers first listened to and recorded the activity of individual neurons in the brain, and she was instantly hooked. After a year of teaching high school science, she began her Ph.D. work in Dr. Ann Graybiel’s lab at MIT studying habit learning in awake-behaving animals. She found not only that animals can form their own habits, much as we as humans do, but that neurons in the striatum of these animals signaled both the cost and benefit of the habitual sequences of movements, and suggested a mechanism by which habits can form and change. The habit system interacts with systems in the brain that are responsible for flexibly adapting our behavior according to our current goals, or executive control. In Dr. Desrochers' postdoc with Dr. David Badre at Brown University, she studied how more abstract, non-motor sequences are controlled and executed in humans using fMRI and TMS and found a novel dynamic in the frontal cortex that is necessary for this function. Now, as a new faculty member in the Neuroscience Department at Brown University, she will extend and integrate my previous work to study sequential control using human experiments to inform and integrate with animal experiments, and vice versa.