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Alicia Izquierdo

Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, UCLA
Website: https://izquierdolab.psych.ucla.edu

Twitter : @A_Izquierdo1


Frontocortical circuits in reward learning and value-based decision making


Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and Anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) have been assigned various overlapping roles ranging from learning and responding to reward, signaling value and uncertainty, and supporting economic decisions, to name a few. Both of these regions share reciprocal anatomical connections with basolateral amygdala, and not surprisingly, there is a great deal of functional similarity among these circuits. Using a combination of novel behavioral paradigms, DREADDs, and calcium imaging in freely-moving rats, our lab has sought better resolution of these diverse frontocortical processes. In this talk I will present data comparing OFC and ACC, together with basolateral amygdala, in reward learning and value-based decisions. Our results suggest highly overlapping, less specialized, roles for ACC and OFC that point to complementary roles in keeping track of outcomes over repeated experience. Our more recent data will be discussed with an eye toward similarities in ACC and OFC function across cognitive domains, from perceptual decisions to flexible learning of stimuli and actions. Collectively these findings may have implications for how we view frontocortical contributions in flexible learning and value-based decision making across rodent and primate species.


Dr. Izquierdo received a B.S. in Biology and Psychology from Emory University, and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience through the Graduate Partnership Program between the National Institutes of Health and The George Washington University. After completing her doctoral work at the National Institute of Mental Health, she spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Dr. Izquierdo is active in a number of national and international organizations and initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion in STEM. She also devotes significant energy to mentoring, recognized by the Department’s J. Arthur Woodward Graduate Mentor Award for 2018 and the Postdoctoral Association at UCLA’s Excellence in Postdoctoral Mentoring Award in 2022.

My main research interests center on understanding the brain mechanisms of flexible reinforcement learning and value-based decisions. Specifically, this involves exploring the impact of costs and determining the relative value of options. To that end, my lab studies these processes using a combination of behavioral, molecular, pharmacological, computational, and in vivo imaging methods. More recently we have investigated the neurobiological basis for the role of uncertainty, risk, and reinforcement history on learning and choice. A better understanding of the basic neural mechanisms in reinforcement learning and choice behavior may contribute to our knowledge of behavioral and substance addictions, in particular.