Neurobiology Faculty Candidate Talk: Julia Cox: A neural substrate of sex-dependent modulation of motivation
Every day, we make decisions based on expected outcomes, from choosing what to eat for breakfast to deciding whether to travel during a pandemic. While there is emerging evidence for sex differences in this decision-making behavior, the neural substrates underlying these differences remain largely unknown. I will present my postdoctoral work demonstrating that while male and female mice make similar choices in a value-based decision-making task, their motivation to engage in the task differs. Specifically, task engagement is more strongly modulated by action value in females than in males. Additionally, we identified a sex-dependent role for the neurons that project from the anterior cingulate cortex to the dorsomedial striatum in the regulation of motivation. Inhibition of these neurons disrupts the relationship between value and motivation in females, without affecting choice in either sex. Consistently, in females compared to males, these neurons have stronger representations of negative outcome and low chosen value. Finally, I will discuss my future research plan, which uses naturalistic decision-making paradigms to disentangle how information necessary for value-based choice is processed in large-scale cortico-subcortical circuits to reveal the neural computations underlying value-based decision making.