Welcome to the Heilbronner Lab!

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Understanding the neurobiology of complex behaviors requires linking diverse methodologies, species, and analytical approaches. The goal of our lab is to use anatomical connectivity and related techniques to help bridge the major divides in neuroscience. Specifically, we perform tract-tracing to understand the neural circuits underpinning motivation and decision-making. We are particularly interested in the medial prefrontal cortex and the posteromedial cortex as critical pieces of the motivation and decision-making circuits. Activations in different portions of these midline regions consistently track subjective value, outcomes, and need for behavioral adjustment. Intriguingly, these areas are also core pieces of the default mode network, a set of highly functionally correlated brain regions consistently deactivated during task performance in humans. A similar network is also present in other species. Thus, the default mode network represents an important circuit for motivation and decision-making that can be interrogated across multiple species.

Specific projects include:

  • Leveraging cortical connectivity with conserved subcortical structures to establish circuit-level similarities across species. Ultimately, this process allows us to translate neural results from nonhuman animals to humans, including psychiatric patient populations.
  • Mapping posteromedial cortico-basal ganglia pathways to answer fundamental questions about integration within the default mode network and the striatum.
  • Anatomically and functionally mapping “patches” of connectivity (small zones of connectivity that do not cover an entire brain region) within the default mode network.
  • Establishing patterns of white matter organization to improve targeting of neuromodulatory interventions for psychiatric and neurological disorders.

    Understanding the brain circuits for motivation and decision making

    Folwell Components
    Five members of the Heilbronner lab, including the PI Sarah Heilbronner, stand in a conference center smiling at the camera.
    Sarah Heilbronner smiles at the camera and sits at the computer with a microscope in the background.
    Cells from M5FR
    Megan Monko presents her poster Projections of the Posteromedial Cortex across species at the GPN retreat (Feb 2019).
    Undergraduate students holding lion brains and smiling
    Mark Grier smiling at the camera in front of his poster titled "Diffusion MRI at 10.5T in Nonhuman Primates"
    Adriana Cushnie smiles at the camera in front of her poster "Use of Viral Tools in the Analysis of Neuronal Circuits in Nonhuman Primates"
    Lab goes to the Minnesota State Fair 2018!
    Hannah presenting
    Olivia Drake presents her poster to a small crowd at a poster session.