I am interested in how the brain understands sensory stimuli from the world around it, and how it adapts its sensory processing based on prior sensory experience. In my lab we work primarily in the rodent olfactory (smell) system, where the neural circuits that process odor stimuli are physically and optically accessible and where breakthroughs in molecular biology permit powerful new experimental techniques.
Olfactory receptor neurons in the nose make physical contact with the molecules composing the odor, and they send this information back to a large structure called the olfactory bulb. We use optical imaging techniques to literally see the unique pattern of neural activity that each odor causes in the olfactory bulb through a surgically-implanted window in the rodent’s skull. By combining this approach with other techniques like behavioral psychophysics (where we watch specially trained rodents’ behavior to infer what an odor smells like to them), immunohistochemistry (where we use antibodies to look at the expression of certain proteins in individual cells), and pharmacology (where we use drugs to change the activity in the circuit), we are able to learn how the brain’s representation and processing of odors relates to the animal’s perception of them.
One ubiquitous feature of mammalian sensory systems is that they constantly adapt to their changing sensory environment. In the olfactory system, circuits in the olfactory bulb constantly change their neurochemistry and neurophysiology in response to the odors encountered. One major direction of our research is to explore the mechanisms of these changes and their utility to the animal.
Our work has been generously supported by grants from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), an Institute of the NIH.
For much more information, including pictures and movies, please see my laboratory website at the URL listed above.