2023 Seed Grant
Natale R. Sciolino, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut
Michael Lee Ciardullo Seed Grant
Neurons in the locus coeruleus (LC) that release the neuromodulator norepinephrine can alter the brain’s response to sensory information, but their impact on taste has never been explored. The overarching goal of Dr. Sciolino’s research is to understand the influence of LC neurons on a central taste system, the brain area known as the gustatory cortex (GC). Towards this goal, Dr. Sciolino’s lab have found that stimulating the LC-GC pathway alters the perception of taste, such that animals find an unfamiliar taste less repulsive. Building upon their finding, the first aim of this project is to examine if stimulating the LC-GC pathway affects other taste-guided behaviors, such as learning to avoid food that induce sickness. This aim will be achieved using an optogenetic technique that allows them to precisely control the timing and location of neural stimulation, empowering them to make a causal connection between how feeding is influenced by natural LC activity. Dr. Sciolino’s second aim is to examine the dynamic changes that take place in GC neurons as a function of stimulating LC projections. Here, Dr. Sciolino’s lab will use brain implantable miniature microscopes to view the activity of individual GC neurons in behaving mice and will determine how their response to taste changes as a function of stimulating the LC-GC pathway. Taken together, their work will shed light on a previously unrecognized neuromodulatory circuit that shapes how we perceive the world and what we choose to eat.