Lab interests

The general aim of the lab is to study how sensory information is processed in the brain to guide behavior, and how this processing changes with new experiences. Specifically, my lab studies the taste system, and how taste information is processed by a complex network of interconnected nuclei (including the amygdala, taste cortex and pre-frontal cortex) to support basic behaviors (i.e. “To spit or to swallow?”), and how this processing is changed with experience (“I would never eat clams again after the stomachache I had last night!”). My research tackles the basic, but still unanswered, questions of how sensory (taste) information is passed, processed and stored in the context of adaptive behavior.

Some of the research specific questions are as follows:

  • How the amygdala, and specifically the basolateral amygdala (BLA), is involved in shaping cortical neuronal ensemble dynamics during sensory processing

 

  • How the BLA influences gustatory cortex (GC) ensemble taste processing during acquisition of emotional learning

 

  • How learning-related BLA and GC responses change when synaptic plasticity in one brain region is inhibited during memory retention

 

To study these questions the lab employs a combination of electrophysiology, optogenetics and complex but robust set of learning paradigms in rats. Many of the tools that we use, such as the multichannel electrode bundles and others are manufactured in-house, giving us a lot of opportunity for innovation and self initiatives. Depending on the research question, data analysis may vary from simple statistical tests to  sophisticated computational and statistical models such as hidden Markov models (HMM). These tools enable looking beyond single neurons responses and into the level of the ensemble state dynamics, where previous studies have shown to provide good correlation with taste coding (Jones et. al, 2007) and behavior (Moran and Katz, 2014).

 

Jones, L. M., Fontanini, A., Sadacca, B. F., Miller, P., & Katz, D. B. (2007). Natural stimuli evoke dynamic sequences of states in sensory cortical ensembles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(47), 18772-18777.

 

Moran, A., & Katz, D. B. (2014). Sensory Cortical Population Dynamics Uniquely Track Behavior across Learning and Extinction. The Journal of Neuroscience, 34(4), 1248-1257.