Research Abstract

Our long-term goal is to reverse engineer the computational and neurobiological processes underlying cognition and decision-making and apply these insights to biological psychiatry.

We start with quantifiable behavioral tasks, for both humans and rodents, that enable us to isolate and study distinct cognitive processes, such as decision confidence. We probe the neural basis of these processes in rodents using state-of-the-art electrophysiological, imaging, and optogenetic techniques to establish the underlying neural mechanisms. Given the complexity of behavior and the dynamics of neural networks producing it, we also develop new algorithms for analyzing data and models to help us interpret them. By understanding how brains accomplish cognitive tasks, often beyond the capacity of current machine learning algorithms, we also expect to uncover new computational principles.

In terms of topics our approach is multifaceted, currently we study the neural basis of decision confidence, impulsivity, social value and foraging; the division of labor among cell-types in prefrontal cortex; communication across cortical regions; neuromodulatory systems and most recently brain-body interactions.

By identifying the neural processes underlying specific behavioral capacities in rodent models of cognition, we also seek insights into what goes awry in the brain during mental illness to build a bridge from animal studies to psychiatry. Ultimately, we hope these insights will lead to develop novel therapeutic strategies for psychiatric disorders such as addiction, major depression, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder.

Selected Publications

  • Kvitsiani D, Ranade S, Hangya B, Taniguchi H, Huang JZ, Kepecs A. Distinct behavioural and network correlates of two interneuron types in prefrontal cortex. Nature. 2013;498(7454):363-6.
  • Pi HJ, Hangya B, Kvitsiani D, Sanders JI, Huang ZJ, Kepecs A. Cortical interneurons that specialize in disinhibitory control. Nature. 2013;503(7477):521-4.
  • Lak A, Costa GM, Romberg E, Koulakov AA, Mainen ZF, Kepecs A. Orbitofrontal cortex is required for optimal waiting based on decision confidence. Neuron. 2014;84(1):190-201.
  • Hangya B, Ranade SP, Lorenc M, Kepecs A. Central Cholinergic Neurons Are Rapidly Recruited by Reinforcement Feedback. Cell. 2015;162(5):1155-68.
  • Sanders JI, Hangya B, Kepecs A. Signatures of a Statistical Computation in the Human Sense of Confidence. Neuron. 2016;90(3):499-506.
  • Lak A, Nomoto K, Keramati M, Sakagami M, Kepecs A. Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Signal Belief in Choice Accuracy during a Perceptual Decision. Curr Biol. 2017;27(6):821-832.
  • Li SJ, Vaughan A, Sturgill JF, Kepecs A. A Viral Receptor Complementation Strategy to Overcome CAV-2 Tropism for Efficient Retrograde Targeting of Neurons. Neuron. 2018;98(5):905-917.e5. PMID:29879392.
  • Hirokawa J, Vaughan A, Ott, T., Masset, P. & Kepecs A. Frontal cortex neuron types categorically encode single decision variables Nature (2019) 576:446-451.

Adam Kepecs, PhD

Robert J. Terry Professor of Neuroscience
Professor of Psychiatry

Washington University
School of Medicine
Campus Box 8108
McDonnell Medical Sciences, 457
St. Louis, MO 63110
(314) 273-8523

Other Information

Selected Honors
James and Cathleen Stone Faculty Award, CSHL

Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow

Eppendorf and Science prize for Neurobiology, Finalist

John Merck Scholar

Klingenstein Fellow

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow

McKnight Memory & Cognitive Disorders Award