Our various states of mind are associated with differing balances of molecules called neuromodulators within our brain, which are involved in the regulation of mood (serotonin), feeling of reward (dopamine), alertness (noradrenaline), or attention (acetylcholine). Alterations in our behavioral state (i.e. how we feel) can also alter how we perceive the world around us, and we are studying how this phenomenon occurs in the brain. In the lab of Dr. Ricardo Araneda, one of the goals of my research is to examine how neuromodulation and the activation of neuromodulatory centers of the brain affect sensory perception. To do this, we utilize rodents and their amazing sense of smell to examine how these neuromodulators affect neural activity at the level of single neurons and how they communicate with each other within a neural circuit.
In mammals, the olfactory system contains the fastest neural pathway linking sensation to perception and memory. Odors entering the nose activate olfactory sensory neurons, which carry odor signals directly to a brain area called the olfactory bulb. Here, the signal is filtered and subsequently sent to the olfactory cortex and areas for emotion and memory. This processing of odor signals in the olfactory bulb is mediated by large populations of inhibitory neurons. I study how these inhibitory neurons contribute to odor coding in the olfactory bulb, as well as how changes in the behavioral states of the animal, along with alterations in neuromodulatory activity, affect these inhibitory neurons to alter the output of the neuronal circuit.
Image: Santiago Ramón y Cajal olfactory system drawing
In the mammalian brain, new neurons are born throughout life and integrated primarily in 2 brain areas: the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb. These adult-born neurons in the olfactory bulb are inhibitory neurons which are involved in odor discrimination and odor learning. I study these interneurons with the hope of shedding light on how new neurons integrate into an existing circuit, how neurons at varying stages of development and integration contribute to olfactory processing, and how their physiological properties are altered by changes in behavioral and neuromodulatory contexts.
Image credit: Carlos Aizenman
Dr. Ricardo Araneda and I were interviewed for the "Beyond the Paper" segment of the eNeuro blog about my first paper from the Araneda lab.
More in-depth blurbs and detailed descriptions of current and prior research can be found in my NIH biosketch.
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