We study how the nervous system encodes odor information, and how the brain processes this information. In other words, how does the brain identify smells? This is a tough problem because most smells are complex mixtures of different odor molecules, because the number of different smells that an animal must detect and identify is huge, and because the olfactory environment is highly varied over time and space. Because of the unique nature of the problem that odors pose for the nervous system, studying olfactory processing may lead to novel insights into how the brain processes complex information in general.
We use optical tools to directly visualize neural activity in genetically- and anatomically-defined neuron populations and to investigate how neurons process olfactory information as an animal smells an odor. We also use optical and other genetic tools to manipulate neuronal activity in order to assess how different elements of olfactory circuitry shape odor coding and odor perception. We are mainly focused on circuits of the olfactory bulb, the first stage of olfactory processing in the brain.