Our research focuses on three related topics:

Taste processing

Nutrient sensing

Circuit development

Taste Processing

We are interested in how taste information is encoded in peripheral and central neurons, and how it is processed to afford robust yet flexible taste behaviors. We use genetic tools, imaging, electrophysiology, and behavior to trace circuits, characterize neuron function, and understand the logic of taste processing in the fly brain.

Most recently, we examined the complexities of salt taste coding in the fly labellum, demonstrating that salt feeding is controlled by interactions between several taste neuron types (Jaeger, Stanley et. al, 2018). We also recently developed a closed-loop optogenetic system, the Sip TRiggered Optogenetic Behaviour Enclosure (STROBE), for manipulating neural circuits during feeding (Musso et al., 2019).

Previously, the lab uncovered central mechanisms for bitter/sweet integration (Chu et al., 2014) and for suppressing bitter taste sensitivity following food deprivation (LeDue et al., 2016). We also described a function of pharyngeal sweet taste in prolonging ingestion of sugars (LeDue et al., 2015).

Current projects in the lab focus on tracing higher-order taste circuits, identifying novel neural populations that control feeding, examining taste coding in the periphery, and modifying taste behaviours through learning.

Nutrient sensing

Maintaining nutrient homeostasis is essential to animal survival, and depends on complex interactions between the systems that regulate nutrient intake, metabolism, and excretion. We were one of several groups to discover evidence that flies modify their feeding behaviour based on taste-independent information about the nutrient content of sugars (Stafford et al., 2012). We are continuing to investigate the mechanisms underlying these effects, as well as the impact of taste-independent detection of other key nutrients.

Circuit development

In collaboration with Dr. Ann Marie Craig we recently characterized the role of a conserved post-translational modification on the synaptic organizing protein Neurexin (Zhang et al., 2018). 

Although there are currently no active developmental projects in the lab, we maintain a general interest in the mechanisms that govern circuit formation and remodeling.

Updated April, 2019