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How we learn, predict and decide: the circuit basis of behaviour


Francis Crick Lecture 2020 delivered by Dr Marta Zlatic

Learning, predicting, and deciding are fundamental brain functions essential for survival across the animal kingdom. Despite decades of investigation, we do not understand the rules governing biological intelligence. A major obstacle to progress has been the inability to determine the architecture of the circuits that implement these functions and to relate the architectural motifs to their function. 

To overcome this obstacle Dr Zlatic's team have established the Drosophila larva as a powerful genetic model system, ideally suited for relating the structure of neural circuits to their function. In this system it is possible to map circuits with synaptic resolution and to record and manipulate the activity of uniquely identified neurons to determine their roles in behaviour. 

Using functional imaging and behavioural experiments, the team is identifying neurons and circuit motifs that regulate learning, compute predicted values, and select actions. In this talk, Dr Zlatic discussed the key findings from these studies and her team’s ongoing work to elucidate the basic principles by which brains learn, predict, and decide. 

The award

The Francis Crick Medal and Lecture is awarded annually in any field in the biological sciences. Preference is given to genetics, molecular biology and neurobiology, the general areas in which Francis Crick worked, and to fundamental theoretical work, which was the hallmark of Crick’s science.

The lectureship was endowed by Sydney Brenner FRS in memory of Francis Crick FRS, the co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule. The first lecture was given in 2003. The medal is of bronze, is awarded annually and is accompanied by a gift of £2,000.

The Francis Crick Medal and Lecture 2020 was awarded to Dr Marta Zlatic for discovering how neural circuits generate behaviour by developing and disseminating definitive techniques, and by discovering fundamental principles governing circuit development and function.

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