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 gustatory portion of the Insular Cortex and other subcortical areas.
Current projects in the lab involve the following: understanding how cortical (gustatory cortex; GC) and thalamic (gustatory thalamus and limbic thalami) areas encode sensory information when animals are actively experiencing taste stimuli; investigating how a higher order limbic thalamic nucleus, the mediodorsal thalamus (MD), affects the neural properties of GC and shapes taste-related behaviors; unveiling the role of GC and its cortical and subcortical connections in perceptual and preferential taste-oriented decision making. To achieve these goals, we rely on novel and sophisticated experimental techniques, including behavioral training, anatomical and genetic targeting of specific neural populations, optical and electrophysiological recordings of neural activity in alert animals, and opto- and chemogenetic manipulation of brain activity.