My lab studies the neurobiological principles underlying cognition and decision-making. Using state-of-the-art technologies, we interrogate neural circuits in rodents as they perform a task. We validate our findings with analogous tasks in humans. We hope to define the neural circuits underlying decisions that will inform the development of new therapies for psychiatric diseases.
Adam Kepecs and colleagues are interested in identifying the neurobiological principles underlying cognition and decision-making. They use a reductionist approach, distilling behavioral questions to quantitative behavioral tasks for rats and mice that enable the monitoring and manipulation of neural circuits supporting behavior. Using state-of-the-art electrophysiological techniques, they first seek to establish the neural correlates of behavior and then use molecular and optogenetic manipulations to systematically dissect the underlying neural circuits. Given the complexity of animal behavior and the dynamics of neural networks that produce it, their studies require quantitative analysis and make regular use of computational models. The team also has begun to incorporate human psychophysics to validate its behavioral observations in rodents by linking them with analogous behaviors in human subjects. Currently, the team’s research encompasses study of (1) neural basis of decision confidence, (2) the division of labor among cell types in prefrontal cortex, (3) how the cholinergic system supports learning and attention, and (4) social decisions that rely on stereotyped circuits. A unifying theme is the use of precisely timed cell-type and pathway-specific perturbations to effect gain- and loss-of-function for specific behavioral abilities. This year, the Kepecs lab was able to link foraging decisions—the choice between staying or going—to a neural circuit and specific cell types in the prefrontal cortex. In other work, they identified a class of inhibitory neurons that specializes in inhibiting other inhibitory neurons in the cerebral cortex and conveys information about rewards and punishment. Through manipulations of genetically and anatomically defined neuronal elements, the team hopes to identify fundamental principles of neural circuit function that will be useful for developing therapies for diseases such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism spectrum disorder.
McKnight Memory & Cognitive Disorders Award
A better way to trace neuronal pathways
June 6, 2018
Moving forward by moving backward more effectively Cold Spring Harbor, NY — New technologies have been likened, famously, to magic. At first, even the few who understand how they work have a tendency to sit back and marvel. Soon, flaws and limitations are detected and the invention process begins again, resulting, almost always, in improvements....
Portrait of a Neuroscience Powerhouse
April 27, 2018
At noon every Tuesday from September through June, scenes from a revolution in neuroscience are playing out at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Week after week, over 100 scientists cram themselves into a ground-floor meeting room in the Beckman Laboratory. It’s standing-room only as everyone in the Neuroscience Program settles in to hear details of the...
CSHL’s Kepecs receives BRAIN Initiative grant to develop tools to guide behavioral research
August 1, 2017
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Neuroscientist Adam Kepecs of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has been selected to lead a new research project that is part of the US government’s “BRAIN” Initiative, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today. Kepecs, a CSHL Professor, will work with colleagues to develop conceptual infrastructure for behavioral neuroscience research....
Is confidence measurable?
May 16, 2017
LabDish blog Confidence is “not just a feeling,” according to neuroscientist Adam Kepecs. Finding the confidence-calculating circuitry in our brains has huge implications for the future of psychiatry. When someone asks you how confident you are about something, you probably don’t offer an answer like “5” or some other number. You’re more likely to say...
Dopamine neurons factor ambiguity into predictions that enable us to “win big and win often”
March 9, 2017
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — In the struggle of life, evolution rewards animals that master their circumstances, especially when the environment changes fast. If there is a recipe for success, it is not: savor your victories when you are fortunate to have them. Rather it is: win big, and win often. To make winning decisions,...
Our brain uses statistics to calculate confidence, make decisions
May 4, 2016
The brain produces feelings of confidence that inform decisions the same way statistics pulls patterns out of noisy data Cold Spring Harbor, NY — The directions, which came via cell phone, were a little garbled, but as you understood them: “Turn left at the 3rd light and go straight; the restaurant will be on your...
Surprised? Cholinergic neurons send brain-wide broadcasts enabling us to learn from the unexpected
August 25, 2015
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — When a large combat unit, widely dispersed in dense jungle, goes to battle, no single soldier knows precisely how his actions are affecting the unit’s success or failure. But in modern armies, every soldier is connected via an audio link that can instantly receive broadcasts—reporting both positive and negative surprises—based...
Drs. Kepecs and Li honored with 2015 NARSAD Independent Investigator grant awards
May 12, 2015
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Two neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have been awarded prestigious NARSAD Independent Investigator grants. The announcement was made by the New York City-based Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF). Adam Kepecs, Ph.D., and Bo Li, Ph.D., both CSHL associate professors, were among 40 mid-career scientists from 30 institutions in...
Swartz Centers dedication
April 1, 2015
An official recognition of Jerome Swartz for his 25+ years of friendship and generous support of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscience programs was held on Wednesday, April 1 with the dedication of the Swartz Centers for Theoretical Neuroscience and Neural Mechanisms of Cognition. Jerry, co-founder and former CEO of Symbol Technologies was the 1999 recipient...
Gambling with confidence: Are you sure about that?
September 18, 2014
Cold Spring Harbor, NY — Life is a series of decisions, ranging from the mundane to the monumental. And each decision is a gamble, carrying with it the chance to second-guess. Did I make the right turn at that light? Did I choose the right college? Was this the right job for me? Our desire...
Kvitsiani, D. and Ranade, S. and Hangya, B. and Taniguchi, H. and Huang, J. Z. and Kepecs, A. (2013) Distinct behavioural and network correlates of two interneuron types in prefrontal cortex. Nature, 498(7454) pp. 363-366.
Ranade, S. and Hangya, B. and Kepecs, A. (2013) Multiple Modes of Phase Locking between Sniffing and Whisking during Active Exploration. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(19) pp. 8250-6.
Sanders, J. I. and Kepecs, A. (2012) Choice ball: A response interface for two-choice psychometric discrimination in head-fixed mice. Journal of Neurophysiology, 108(12) pp. 3416-3423.
Kepecs, A. and Uchida, N. and Zariwala, H. A. and Mainen, Z. F. (2008) Neural correlates, computation and behavioural impact of decision confidence. Nature, 455(7210) pp. 227-31.
Kepecs, A. and Wang, X. J. and Lisman, J. (2002) Bursting neurons signal input slope. Journal of Neuroscience, 22(20) pp. 9053-9062.Additional materials of the author at
CSHL Institutional Repository