The general aim of the lab is to study how taste information is processed in the brain to guide behavior, and how this processing changes with new experiences. The taste system, a complex network of interconnected nuclei (including, among others, the taste cortex, amygdala, and pre-frontal cortex) is known to process and transmit taste-related information between its nodes, and to adaptively change its neuronal activity and connectivity following tasting experiences. We strive to understand both the neuronal coding of taste and palatability information, as well as the rules that govern neuronal activity and connectivity changes.
Bellow you can find a list of some of our ongoing projects
01 Memory progression
In this project, we study the changes in the activity (taste coding) and network connectivity between hundreds of neurons as a memory is being acquired and matured over several days. Previously we showed that many neurons change their activity during the acquisition and consolidation of the CTA memory (Arieli et al., 2022), in the 10 hours following the pairing of a novel sweet taste with gastric malaise (the CTA memory). The current project aims to proceed further and unravel the precise rules that govern the changes in the activity of the neurons, and the connectivity between the neurons that underlie each step of memory maturation. To that end, we combine state-of-the-art Neuropixels electrophysiology with machine-learning computational analysis.
02 Social interactions and their impact on feeding decisions
The ability to learn from experience poses a great advantage for survival. This is especially true when focusing on feeding behavior, in which the consumption of toxic food, for instance, may lead to a fatal outcome. While rats convincingly show the ability to learn food preferences from other rats, they generally fail to avoid food that causes malaise in cage mates. This failure is odd since rats can perceive stress and pain in other rats.
This project aims to study the influence of rats’ social interactions on feeding decisions and learning. In addition, we will explore the brain regions that participate during the social experience and impact learning in the taste system. To that end, we will video-monitor pair-housed siblings’ behavior, run molecular assays, and analyze electrophysiological activity during aversive memory formation under different social conditions. Machine-learning-based video analysis of the pair’s interactions will be used to reveal fine aspects of dominance and individual personality.
03 The role of ongoing neuronal activity on memory formation
Memory is believed to be subserved by synaptic strength changes between neurons, which consequently lead to changes in neuronal activity – the realization of the memory itself. In conditioned taste aversion (CTA), numerous studies have described the complex molecular cascades that support the early acquisition and the late consolidation phases. In other memory systems, mainly ones that rely on the hippocampus, distinct neuronal activity and communication between the hippocampus and the cortex are essential for memory consolidation. Little is known, however, whether such neuronal activity following the CTA training session is part of the memory consolidation process of CTA, or whether the molecular cascades progress autonomously, one step leading to the other, irrespective of the neuronal activity. To study this question we will utilize chemogenetic and/or optogenetic tools to silence neurons in specific hours after learning and test its effect on learning.
04 Bitter taste logic
Are all bitter tastes perceived as a unitary bitter taste? Or are there different bitters? It is amazing that we still don’t know the answer to this simple question. This question is even more puzzling since there are many bitter taste receptors (~25 in humans, ~35 in rodents) that are activated by different bitter taste molecules, and potentially help differentiate between them. We are intending to investigate this enigma, using both behavioral studies, as well as studying neuronal responses to different bitter tastes.