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Zackary A. Cope


B.S. (Psychology & Biology) East Tennessee State University, 2005

M.A. (Experimental Psychology) East Tennessee State University, 2008

Ph.D. Student, MUSC Neurosciences, 2008-Present

Current Research Description:

In order for any organism to thrive it is essential to appropriately direct one's behavior to maximize reward while minimizing cost when faced with a multitude of opportunities.  My research is aimed in determining how the brain is able to 1) identify when utility of ongoing behaviors is waning and, 2)adaptively modify behavior to find new, more rewarding opportunities.  The Adaptive Gain Theory put forth by the Aston-Jones labratory posits a very important role for the noradrenergic brainstem nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) in regulating this behavior.  Specifically, it is believed that two distinct modes of activity in LC neurons are responsible for exploiting ongoing behavior when utility is high and, conversely, disengaging from a behavior when utility wanes so that more rewarding options may be explored.  Using techniques such as optogenetic stimulation/inhibition as well single and multi-unit recording in awake animals performing an operant chamber based attention set-shifting task, we hope to clearly define the role of the LC in this ability to exploit vs. explore.  In addition, we hope to determine which efferent and afferent inputs to and from the frontal cortex are related to the control of attention and focus by the LC.

Current Techniques:

Optogenetics, in-vivo cognitive electrophysiology, behavioral conditioning, automated attention set shifting

Previous Research Projects:

Amphetamine Sensitization and microdialysis in the nucleus accumbens core of adult male and female rats D2 primed as neonates, Master's Thesis, mentor:  Russell W. Brown, East Tennessee State University

Nicotine sensitization and sex differences in a rodent model of psychosis, PI:  Russell W. Brown, ETSU


Pubmed for Cope, ZA