Zachary F. Mainen
Neural Maps of Olfactory Sensation
We are trying to understand how systems of neurons participate in the creation of perception, awareness, and behavior. We are focusing on the rodent olfactory system from olfactory bulb to prefrontal cortex. The olfactory system offers numerous experimental advantages including its anatomical simplicity and rich behavioral paradigms. We hope to understand the neural mechanisms by which rodents use odors to guide interactions with objects and animals in their environment. Thus, we are concerned with how the brain can represent and remember the identity and valences of stimuli and their relationships, and use this information to discriminate and act upon these stimuli.
Experimentally, we take an integrative approach employing a wide range of techniques that cover cellular and molecular, behavior and computational methods. We use imaging technology (e.g., intrinsic optical imaging and two-photon microscopy) and electrophysiology (e.g., whole-cell and single unit recording) to monitor neuronal activity in brain slices and in living animals. We use genetically modified mice to obtain specific probes and perturbations of neural function. Finally, we use computational methods to integrate experimental data into quantitative models.