Shelly Flagel

Neuroscience Symposium

The Neuroscience Symposia are organized weekly by the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. The presentations are given by researchers from the institute or by guest speakers. The title and content of the symposium is usually made known in the week prior to the presentation.

A zoom link will be sent via mail.

Guest speaker PhD students

4 pm – The paraventricular thalamic nucleus as a neural switch underlying individual differences in cue-motivated behaviors


Pavlovian learning processes can transform cues in the environment into powerful motivators, capable of eliciting complex emotional states and, thereby, maladaptive behavior. Using an animal model, we have shown that individuals vary in their propensity to attribute motivational value to reward-cues. Namely, goal-tracker rats attribute predictive value to reward-cues, and sign-tracker rats attribute both predictive and incentive value to reward cues. Exploiting these behavioral phenotypes has enabled us to parse the neural processes underlying predictive vs. incentive learning. Our research has identified the paraventricular thalamic nucleus (PVT) as a critical node that differentially mediates cue-reward learning in goal-tracker and sign-tracker rats. Specifically, the PVT appears to act as a fulcrum between top-down cortical processes and bottom-up subcortical processes. The neural pathway from the prelimbic cortex (PrL) to the PVT appears to be especially important in this regard, encoding the predictive value of reward cues. In goal-trackers, this top-down pathway exerts cognitive control over cue-motivated behaviors; whereas in sign-trackers, subcortical motivational processes override this top-down control. In particular, we have found that orexinergic input from the lateral hypothalamus to the PVT plays an important role in incentive motivational processes. In turn, cue-motivated behavior appears to be regulated via output from the PVT to the shell of the nucleus accumbens (NAcSh). Thus, maladaptive behaviors may be elicited when activity within the PVT is largely a result of subcortical processes, namely that from the hypothalamus; whereas adaptive behaviors may result when activity of the PVT is primarily under top down control from the PrL. More generally, an imbalance between these subcortical and cortical processes converging upon the PVT may subserve a neurobehavioral end phenotype that is especially vulnerable to cue-motivated psychopathologies.