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Life Without Cortex: Subcortical Circuits in Naturalistic Behaviors


Turan, Zeynep (2021) Life Without Cortex: Subcortical Circuits in Naturalistic Behaviors. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/czd1-dp02.


A major goal of neuroscience is to understand the neural circuits underlying animal behavior. Many contemporary studies focus on behavioral tasks which do not reflect realistic conditions, such as mapping an arbitrary sensory stimulus to motor output. Given that the brain evolved within the context of the natural environment, it is more likely that these circuits were optimized for naturalistic behaviors such as avoiding predators, hunting, and social interactions with conspecifics. Many of these naturalistic behaviors predate the great expansion of the neocortex in mammals, as they are crucial for the survival of any animal. Using a mutant mouse model and surgical techniques, we show that the evolutionarily ancient subcortical circuits of mice are sufficient for sensory processing, stimulus discrimination, and exhibiting robust innate defensive behaviors in a predator avoidance assay. Furthermore, these animals are capable of navigating a complex labyrinth, which challenges long-held beliefs that learning and memory require the neocortex and the hippocampus. Our results emphasize the significant capacity of subcortical circuits in behaviors necessary for survival and illustrate the importance of using naturalistic behaviors to probe brain function.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Naturalistic behavior, subcortical circuits, predator avoidance
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Biology and Biological Engineering
Major Option:Neurobiology
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Meister, Markus
Thesis Committee:
  • Gradinaru, Viviana (chair)
  • Anderson, David J.
  • Lois, Carlos
  • Meister, Markus
Defense Date:19 May 2021
Non-Caltech Author Email:zeynepturan (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06082021-032229529
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription related to Chapter 2.2 related to Chapter 1.4 related to Chapter 3.1
Turan, Zeynep0000-0003-0704-5116
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:14263
Deposited By: Zeynep Turan
Deposited On:08 Jun 2021 22:53
Last Modified:17 Jun 2021 20:54

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