Columbia University Medical Center

DEPARTMENT OF NEUROSCIENCE

Vikram Gadagkar, PhD

Vikram Gadagkar, PhD
  • Department of Neuroscience
  • Assistant Professor of Neuroscience (in the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute)

A major goal of neuroscience is to understand how the brain produces behavior. But to produce complex learned behavior, the brain first needs to evaluate behavior. The central question that drives the Gadagkar Lab is: How do brains evaluate behaviors - both self-generated and the behaviors of others? Many of our socially relevant motor skills such as speaking or playing a musical instrument are not innately programmed but are acquired and maintained through a process of trial and error or reinforcement. First, during the practice phase, these complex motor sequences are learned by matching exploratory motor output to internal goals or templates. Second, these newly acquired sequences are performed to a socially significant target audience in a highly stereotyped manner. Third, the audience evaluates the performance, shows a preference for certain features like stereotypy and virtuosity, and provides feedback to the performer. These three stages of practice, performance, and preference serve the goal of learning motor skills critical for social life, yet we understand very little about the neural mechanisms underlying these processes.

The songbird, with its highly tractable song circuit, is an excellent model system to address this problem. The adult zebra finch song is a learned, stereotyped motor sequence, and juvenile finches learn to imitate their tutor’s song (the internal goal) by trial and error. Furthermore, male songbirds ‘practice’ their songs alone with the ultimate goal of ‘performing’ to a female. Female finches evaluate male songs directed at them and show a ‘preference’ for the most stereotyped and attractive songs. The goal of the Gadagkar Lab is to combine the advantages of the zebra finch courtship song system with state-of-the-art computational, theoretical, and experimental techniques to study how the brain implements reinforcement learning through the stages of practice, performance, and preference. Some of the questions we are currently investigating are: 1. What is the role of reinforcement during early critical periods of sensorimotor learning? 2. How does the brain switch between a state optimized for variability and learning to a state optimized for stereotypy and performance? 3. What are the neural mechanisms of female mate choice?

Biography

Vikram Gadagkar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and a Principal Investigator in the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute at Columbia University. Vikram received his BS in physics, chemistry, and mathematics from Bangalore University, MS in physics (working with Prof. Ajay Sood) from the Indian Institute of Science, and PhD in physics (working with Prof. Séamus Davis) from Cornell University. He then received his postdoctoral training with Prof. Jesse Goldberg at the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, where he discovered that midbrain dopamine neurons encode performance error in singing birds.

Vikram joined Columbia University in May 2020.

Education & Training

  • BSc, 2002 Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
  • MS, 2005 Physics (Graduated with highest GPA), Indian Institute of Science (India)
  • PhD, 2013 Physics, Cornell University
  • Lab Locations

    Jerome L. Greene Science Center

    3227 Broadway
    L4-027
    New York, NY 10027

    Phone:
    (212) 853-1190
    Email:
    vg2481@columbia.edu

    Honors & Awards

    • 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS/Science Program for Excellence in Science
    • 2018 Peter and Patricia Gruber International Research Award (Society for Neuroscience) (awarded to 2 young neuroscientists working in an international setting across the world).
    • 2017 K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award (NIH/NINDS) (awarded to 8 postdocs from NINDS in the nation).
    • 2017 Organization of Computational Neuroscience (OCNS) Award to attend the Methods in Computational Neuroscience course at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole (awarded to 2 out of 24 attendees)
    • 2017 William Morton Wheeler Family Founders’ Scholarship to attend the Methods in Computational Neuroscience course at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole
    • 2016 Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB) Postdoctoral Fellowship (awarded to 8 postdocs across the world)
    • 2015 Computational and Systems Neuroscience (COSYNE) Presenters Travel Award
    • 2011 Douglas Fitchen Memorial Travel Award, Department of Physics, Cornell University (awarded to 1 graduate student).
    • 2011 International Conference in Low Temperature Physics (LT26) Travel Award
    • 2011 Cornell University Graduate School Conference Award
    • 2006 Cornell Graduate Fellowship, Department of Physics, Cornell University
    • 2004 Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) in the National Eligibility Test (NET), Government of India, declined.
    • 2002-2003 Kumari L. A. Meera Award for the highest CGPA in MS (Physical Sciences), Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
    • 2002 Sri B. K. Srinivasa Iyengar Memorial Gold Medal in Mathematics and Chemistry, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 Shikshana Shilpi Shri P. Mallikarjunappa Memorial Gold Medal in Physical Chemistry, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 A. N. Sridhara Prize for the best all-around student in St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 Srinivasa Masty Memorial Prize for Mathematics, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 Phys. Sci. Assoc. Old Students' award for the most outstanding student, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore Univ., India
    • 2002 Jaya Krishnan Prize for highest marks in all B.Sc. exams, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 M. V. Jaganath Prize for highest marks in final B.Sc. exams, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 Rev. Fr. Elias D’Souza S. J. Prize for Mathematics, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2002 Prof. H. S. Srinivasa Rao Prize for highest marks in B.Sc. (PCM), St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 2000 Certificate of Excellence in Lecture Competitions, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore University, India
    • 1999-2002 Awards in 9 science presentation contests and 14 science quizzes at the intercollegiate level in Bangalore, India
    • 1999-2004 Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) Fellowship, Govt. of India (awarded to 7 undergraduates in the nation).
    • 2000 Principal's Prize for highest marks in 1st year B.Sc. University Exam, St. Joseph's College, Bangalore Univ., India
    • 1997 Special Prize for Academic Excellence in the All India Sec. School Exam of Central Board of Secondary Education
    • 1997 Awarded the best all-around student in high school (KVIISc) (awarded to 1 out of 70 students).

    Lab Website

    Past Positions

    • 2020-present Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience and the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, Columbia University, USA
    • 2017-present NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Fellow
    • 2018-2020 Research Associate, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, USA
    • 2016-2020 Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain (SCGB) Postdoctoral Fellow 2
    • 013-2020 Visiting Scientist, Department of Physics, Cornell University, USA
    • 2013-2018 Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, USA
    • 2006-2013 Graduate Research/Teaching Assistant, Department of Physics, Cornell University, USA
    • 2005-2006 Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Physics, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India
    • 1999-2004 Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) Fellow, Bangalore, India

    Research Interests

    Cognitive/Systems neuroscience
    Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
    Systems and circuits
    Neuroethology
    Computation and theory

    Lab Members

    Publications

    Vikram Gadagkar, P. A. Puzerey, R. Chen, E. Baird-Daniel, A. Farhang and J. H. Goldberg (2016) Dopamine Neurons Encode Performance Error in Singing Birds. Science 354: 1278-1282

    Vikram Gadagkar and J. H. Goldberg (2013) A variability-generating circuit goes awry in a songbird model of the FOXP2 speech disorder. Neuron 80: 1341-1344

    E. Pratt, B. Hunt, Vikram Gadagkar, M. Yamashita, M. J. Graf, A. V. Balatsky, and J. C. Davis (2011) Interplay of Rotational, Relaxational, and Shear Dynamics of Solid 4He. Science 332: 821-824

    B. Hunt, E. Pratt, Vikram Gadagkar, M. Yamashita, A. V. Balatsky, and J. C. Davis (2009) Evidence for a Superglass State in Solid 4He. Science 324: 632-636