Principal Investigator:Justus Verhagen, PhD
The John B. Pierce Laboratory
The main focus of the Verhagen lab is to explore the neural basis of flavor perception. Flavor perception has great relevance to the ongoing obesity epidemic, as it directly guides our daily food choices. Our approach to understanding the fundamental principles of human flavor perception is to use innovative rodent models that enable high resolution neurophysiological studies under conditions of controlled flavor experience. However, we know virtually nothing about how rodents perceive and process flavor. The lab has started to make significant advances in these areas.
We have developed sophisticated methods for combining behavioral and neural methods, notably, optogenetic imaging and stimulation techniques in awake, unrestrained animals.
One of the main research areas is the neural encoding of retronasal smell. We optically image the input and output of the olfactory bulb in both rats and transgenic mice. In collaboration with Dr. Gordon Shepherd, Department of Neurobiology, Yale School of Medicine, we are exploring the perceptual significance of small-scale temporal dynamics of the olfactory bulb. Here, Channel-Rhodopsin mice discriminate sniff-triggered movies projected onto their olfactory bulbs. This complex fully automated project is pinning down the minimal temporal discriminability of virtual odors. Dr. Shepherd and I are also exploring the input-output relationship between optically stimulated glomeruli and electrophysiologically recorded mitral cells (spatio-temporal transfer functions).
Our interest in odor coding in the olfactory bulb has led to an additional collaboration with Dr. Fahmeed Hyder, Department of Biomedical Engineering, Director of MRRC and QNMR, Yale School of Medicine, with whom we are exploring the similarity in optically and micro-fMRI-imaged rats exposed to retro- and orthonasal odorants. This will allow both translation of rodent imaging to human work, and deeper understanding of whole-bulb food-related response patterns.
The Verhagen lab is researching the general mechanisms of odor navigation, funded by NSF (Brain Initiative) in a large cross-disciplinary team. At Pierce we are developing and implementing odor source localization using a virtual olfactory environment.
See more at odor2action.org