Odor Perception

Understanding how nerve cells are wired together into functional circuits is essential to understanding how the brain works. Traditional anatomical techniques can reveal the structure of neuronal circuits. However, determining which nerve cells actually communicate with one another in a complex circuit is more challenging. Recent advances in genetics have ushered in a new age of functional circuit mapping. We can genetically ‘tag’ specific populations of neurons in the intact mouse brain with a light-activated channel, allowing us to selectively activate spatially-defined subsets of neurons with light. Using this photostimulation-based approach, we plan to map the strengths of local circuit connections in the olfactory bulb, a part of the brain that processes sensory information about smell. We use the olfactory system because it is well-characterized, genetically tractable, and functionally important to the animal. The research described here will allow us to address fundamental questions about sensory processing that were previously not possible to address using traditional techniques. Future work will focus on how the activation of specific circuits using light elicits or influences odor perception. The ‘optogenetic’ approach described here can also be further exploited to study other parts of the mammalian brain.

Other Grants

Rebekah C. Evans, Ph.D., Georgetown University
In Vivo and Ex Vivo Dissection of Midbrain Neuron Activity During Exercise
Exercise is important for the health of the body and the mind. Exercise promotes learning and reduces symptoms of brain-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. However, it…
William J. Giardino, Ph.D. Stanford University
Deciphering the Neuropeptide Circuitry of Emotional Arousal in Narcolepsy
This research project aims to investigate the neural mechanisms of a specific type of brain cell called neuropeptide neurons within a region of the brain’s amygdala network called the bed…
Howard Gritton, Ph.D., University of Illinois
Attention Mechanisms Contributing to Auditory Spatial Processing.
Our world is composed of a rich mixture of sounds. We often process sounds including speech in the presence of many other competing auditory stimuli (e.g., voices in a crowded…
Nora Kory, Ph.D., Harvard University
Elucidating the Fates and Functions of Lactate in the Brain
The human brain requires significant energy to function. Despite accounting for only 2% of our body weight, the brain consumes a substantial 20% of the body’s energy, relying on a…