Jacob Orquin receives grant from the Lundbeck Foundation

The fundraising of the DKK 1.5 million grant has been supported by the MGMT Accelerator programme.

2018.04.16 | Merete Elmann

Jacob Orquin

Associate Professor Jacob Orquin from the Marketing section at Department of Management has been granted DKK 1.5 million for the project The role of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in learning and decision making.

Jacob Orquin received Accelerator funding for this project in June 2017 to support his fundraising process.

“The accelerator funds helped me establish a collaboration with Ray Dolan, a leading neuroscientist at University College London, by covering travels and experimental costs. Ray received the Brain Prize in 2017 (something akin to a Nobel prize in neuroscience) which in the autumn gave us the possibility to apply for the Lundbeck grant. We wrote the grant proposal with reference to our first experiment. I believe that having an ongoing collaboration was part of the reason we received funding”, says Jacob Orquin.

The role of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in learning and decision making
The locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system was for a long time thought to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. However, recent work has shown that the LC-NE system also plays an important role in higher cognition and behavior, and is implicated in the expression of several psychiatric disorders including depression and anxiety as well as in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. The LC-NE system is thought to enhance the signal-to-noise ratio in the brain by amplifying the responsiveness of neural responses to excitatory and inhibitory signals, also referred to as neural gain. The neural gain theory has mostly been studied with relatively simple tasks and we are only now beginning to understand what neural gain means in relation to higher cognition, including learning and decision making. The proposed research questions will be applied in the context of reinforcement learning, which provides an elegant and relatively simple theory of how brains, minds, and machines can learn from experience to make better decisions. A key component of the theory that is still poorly understood is balancing the exploration of new resources with the exploitation of known resources to maximize rewards. The LC-NE activity is a candidate mechanism behind balancing the exploration and exploitation postulating that high tonic activity leads to task disengagement and exploratory behavior while low tonic activity leads to task engagement and exploitation behavior. In summary, this project aims to advance our understanding of the LC-NE system and neural gain by (i) developing new and inexpensive methods for indexing LC-NE activity in learning and decision making tasks using pupil size (pupillometry) and eye movements, (ii) cross-validate the new method with magnetoencephalography (MEG) signatures of neural gain, and (iii) using these methods to investigate the role of the LC-NE system in balancing the exploration and exploitation in reinforcement learning.




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