The FENS EJN Young Investigator Prize is awarded every second year to a researcher under the age of 35 in recognition of his or her outstanding scientific contributions to any area of neuroscience. The awardee receives a personal prize of £ 7,000.
The FENS EJN Young Investigator Prize 2020 is presented to Dr. Laurence Hunt (University of Oxford, UK).
Laurence Hunt is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow and Principal Investigator of the Cognitive Computational Neuroscience lab at the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford. Following the award of his DPhil in 2011, Dr. Hunt joined the labs of Professor Ray Dolan and Professor Steve Kennerley at University College London. In 2012, he was awarded a Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship to support his work at UCL. In 2016 he was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Award by the Brain and Behavior Foundation, to pursue further independent research. In 2017, he was awarded a Henry Dale Fellowship by the Royal Society and Wellcome Trust to establish his own research group in Oxford.
Over the past decade, Dr. Hunt has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the contribution of different subregions of the primate prefrontal cortex to decision making, and learning. Uniquely, Dr. Hunt’s work has adopted a cross-species approach. He has combined neuroimaging techniques in humans with electrophysiological recordings in macaque monkeys, using analogous tasks across species. He has explained his findings using biophysically realistic network models of decision making. Predictions from these models are made both at the level of neural populations and macroscopic neuroimaging signals, as well as predicting subjects’ behavioural performance. As such, his work provides a unique insight into the underlying neural circuit mechanisms that give rise to macroscopic imaging measurements during decision making.
In a key paper in eLife in 2015, for example, he showed that a biophysical network model could explain the origins of certain ‘decision variables’ observed in both human magnetoencephalography and macaque single-unit data. He showed how such a model can predict how these variables should evolve over time as a decision is being formed. He then followed this with a breakthrough paper in Nature Neuroscience in 2018. In this, he demonstrated a clear-cut functional triple dissociation across different prefrontal subregions. He showed how these subregions were unique in which decision variables were represented, how these were shaped by attention, and how they evolve across time in the lead-up to a decision. He has published further papers in this area in leading journals including Nature, Science, Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, eLife, Nature Reviews Neuroscience and the Journal of Neuroscience.
PFC is a brain area that has expanded substantially in humans and other primates. Dr. Hunt’s work has provided a unique lens through which to understand how primate PFC supports both normal and pathological decision making. His current work is expanding upon his previous research to understand how neurochemical manipulations of glutamate and dopamine modify PFC circuits during cognitive tasks. He argues that understanding circuit-level mechanisms in human PFC may provide the ‘missing link’ between molecular and behavioural explanations of several neuropsychiatric disorders. As part of the emerging field of ‘Computational Psychiatry’, his current work has the potential to change our understanding of neuropharmacological treatments of these disorders.
The FENS EJN Young Investigator Prize is sponsored by Wiley (publisher of EJN) and will be presented to Dr. Hunt at the FENS Forum 2020 in Glasgow (11 – 15 July 2020).