The research in the lab aims to investigate the basis of our ability to decide and plan our eating behaviors and dietary choices. The motivation to eat depends greatly on the taste of food and the reward experienced while eating. How are we able to extract taste information from what we eat? How do we use taste information to decide what to eat? Specifically, how does the brain allow this to happen? What are the specific regions and connections of the brain that are fundamental to this process? By understanding these points, we will gather critical knowledge on how the brain controls food consumption and feeding behaviors, both of which are relevant for understanding eating disorders. Our lab addresses these points by studying the neural circuits and computations of brain regions involved in taste and reward processing, such as the insular cortex and other subcortical areas. Current projects in the lab involve the following:
1) understanding how cortical (gustatory cortex; GC) and thalamic (gustatory thalamus and limbic thalami) areas encode sensory information when animals are actively experiencing taste stimuli;
2) investigating the role of the endocannabinoid modulation of information-processing in the GC in relation to taste processing and food-oriented behavior;
3) investigating the forebrain neural processing mediating the perception of intraoral temperature and determine how temperature of taste solutions modulates gustatory processing in the GC and taste-related behavior.
To achieve these goals, we rely on novel and sophisticated experimental techniques, including behavioral training, anatomical and genetic targeting of specific neural populations, recordings of neural activity in alert animals with multi electrodes and optical imaging, and opto- and chemogenetic manipulation of brain activity.