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Congratulations are in order for Sir Henry Dale Fellow Dr Armin Lak who has been awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council. His funded project will investigate the neural circuits for learning under perceptual uncertainty.

© Aeron Laffere, Lak Group
Dopamine release in the striatum as a mouse learns to make decisions.

We learn to make decisions that yield the largest and most likely rewards. Several brain regions participate in this process, yet the precise mechanisms of how the brain learns remain unclear.  A new ERC Starting Grant of more than £1.25 million will allow the Lak Lab to address a fundamental question in neuroscience: How does the brain learn to make efficient decisions in an uncertain world? With funding secure over the next five years, Dr Armin Lak and his team of researchers will embark on a new project investigating neural bases of long-term learning under uncertainty. Dr Lak said: “This is an uncharted space of research entailing significant risk and promising scientific breakthrough."

The Lak Lab will harness a wealth of cutting-edge techniques to approach this major and little understood area. New large-scale optical and electrophysiological technologies will allow the team to record from many neurons at the same time and conduct longitudinal monitoring of neural activity as animals learn to improve at a variety of tasks over time. Dr Lak said: “We have gathered preliminary data that shows the feasibility of this approach, and we will be employing these new tools to examine neural bases of learning at an unprecedented spatial and temporal scale. We have the tools, resources and data-driven hypotheses to address this fundamental question.”

On receipt of the award, Dr Lak said: “DPAG has been an exceptional place supporting us to focus on our key research questions and collect experimental data necessary for this grant. My group is collaborating with several others within the department, providing an ideal setting which allows us to discuss, develop and refine novel research ideas, leading to this grant proposal. I am thankful to my lab members and colleagues across the department for creating this stimulating intellectual environment.” 

“The prospect of a scientific breakthrough and the joy of working with a diverse team of bright scientists in my lab are the most important things I am looking forward to. This ERC grant is a game changer for us, given its focus on basic discovery science and the risks that such research entails.”

More information about the lab’s research can be found on the Lak Group website.

More information about the ERC Starting Grants can be found on the European Research Council website.

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