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NSF PIRE program: Neural Mechanisms of Reward & Decision

Award Abstract
Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE)

PIRE Application Form (PDF)

PIRE: Neural Mechanisms of Reward and Decision

A major goal in the field of neuroscience is to understand how the brain evaluates its surroundings and implements a plan of action. Increasing our knowledge about decision-making could ultimately lead to improved strategies for solving problems in a more effective and adaptive fashion. This knowledge should also provide deep insight into certain behavioral and developmental disorders in which decision-making is compromised.

This PIRE project brings together of a consortium of U.S. and international faculty and students on four interdisciplinary subprojects that are unified by the goal of increasing our understanding of brain mechanisms mediating reward and decision processes. Each subproject will partner investigators and students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and/or Oklahoma State University with a team of international researchers from Canada, Chile, Egypt, Italy, and/or Turkey. The Neural Mechanisms of Reward and Decision project will catalyze advances in research and education that could not occur without international collaboration. PIRE workshops and exchanges will cultivate interdisciplinary cooperation and identify common objectives among groups that investigate the role of dopamine in reward and decisions across a broad spectrum of phylogenetic and mechanistic levels. One subproject (Miller) will study the impact of parasitic infection on neuromodulatory systems that regulate host behavior in a snail-schistosome system using transcriptomics and electrophysiological techniques. A second subproject (Segarra) will examine how isolation stress during adolescence differentially affects male and female dopamine circuitry and resultant learning, memory and behavior in rats. A third subproject (Giray) will study the role of dopamine on plasticity of foraging behavior in different honeybee subspecies. The fourth subproject (Jiménez) will examine the biophysical consequences of repeated exposure to stimulants on the activity of dopamine neurons. The program will make continuous efforts to integrate across the four subprojects to achieve a broad understanding of neural mechanisms of reward and decision processes.

Student participants in the Neural Mechanisms of Reward and Decision project will conduct research in the labs of international partners as well as in U.S. labs; they will receive mentoring to develop their critical thinking proficiency and enhance their communication skills and professionalism. All mentors possess considerable experience with international collaboration and cooperation which will be shared and disseminated for the benefit of the entire program. This program also responds to the national need to increase diversity in the scientific workforce. The University of Puerto Rico has historically served as a rich source of talented students who pursue graduate degrees in institutions on the island and elsewhere. This program will enhance our ability to provide students with international research experiences that promote their global engagement. A major beneficiary of broadened global participation in the field of neuroscience will be the field itself.