2016 Finalist Anna Beyeler, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow of the Brain and Behavior Foundation (NARSAD) Picower Institute for Learning and Memory Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Anna Beyeler received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Bordeaux. It was here that she completed a Master of Neuroscience studying the role of serotonin 2c receptors in the basal ganglia. She was awarded her Ph.D. based on research investigating the connectivity of the locomotor central pattern generator in the spinal cord. After a first postdoc where she defined a role for local interneurons of the hippocampus in the generation of gamma oscillations, Anna Beyeler joined the Tye Lab at MIT where she now studies the function of anatomically defined neural populations in coding emotional valence. Her long term goal is to define how valence circuits are dysfunctional in psychiatric diseases, such as anxiety and depression, to eventually develop strategies to treat patients suffering from these devastating disorders.

Parsing Reward from Aversion
The valence of our emotions guide our daily life and allow us to produce adapted behaviors in order to insure our survival and well-being. Highly conserved neural circuits in the mammalian brain allow us to rapidly identify the valence of environmental stimuli and select the appropriate behavioral response. In a natural environment, cues of positive valence trigger appetitive or consummatory behaviors while cues of negative valence initiate aversive or escape behaviors. The amygdala is a complex of brain nuclei imparting motivational significance to sensory information, and is known to have aberrant activity in patients with anxiety disorders and depression. Over the last four years, Anna Beyeler has dedicated her research to the study of neural diversity in the amygdala. She and her colleagues defined three neural populations, based on their anatomical projection target, and identified divergence in their coding properties of valence. Her work provides a fundamental characterization of amygdala subpopulations and elucidates a neurobiological mechanism for the divergence of emotional information in the brain.

For Dr. Beyeler‘s full essay, see Science online at sciencemag.org.