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Chemosensory Focus Group


The goal of the Chemosensory Neuroscience Focus Group (CNFG) is to provide training and foster research in the chemical senses in order to understand their neurobiology and the roles they play in the function of the entire organism. The last decade has seen a spectacular growth in chemosensory research.

The chemical senses taste and smell are crucial players in enabling an individual toChemosensory Research Focus Group Graduate Program in Neuroscience detect, characterize and interact with chemical cues in the environment. Taste is involved in the evaluation of soluble components that are present in food and drink and thus plays a key role in the determination of the palatability of food and in nutrition, especially mineral and energy balance. Olfaction, or the sense of smell, is critical for monitoring the presence of volatile compounds and is important for evaluating the safety of the environment, for interpersonal interactions, and for ingestive decisions. Taste and smell offer opportunities to study different modes of sensory transduction: how chemical information is converted to neural information. Both of these neural systems possess sensory cells that are in contact with the environment and that are continuously replaced during life. Therefore, these systems are powerful models for the study of stem cells, regeneration, plasticity, and development in the nervous system. The regenerative properties of these neurons render them particularly promising as potential sources for neuronal transplantation to ameliorate degenerative diseases. Within the central nervous system, the olfactory bulb and piriform cortex are attractive as model systems for the study of cortical organization and function and for investigation of the neural basis of learning and memory.

Faculty

Research

Applications of contemporary technologies to research questions in the chemical senses are providing new insights. Examples of such approaches include molecular cloning, genomic arrays, transgenic mice, patch-clamp recording, functional in vitro tissue slice preparations, and characterization of neural networks and of functional synaptic organization. The faculty members encompass a wide ranging set of skills, including hands-on expertise in modern molecular methods, tissue culture, immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization, quantitative anatomical and functional imaging, electron microscopy, intracellular, patch-clamp and extracellular electrophysiology in both in vivo and in vitro preparations, neuropharmacology, and human and animal psychophysical methods.

Researchers at the University of Maryland were the first to develop an in vitro slice preparation of the mammalian olfactory bulb, which has allowed the study of synaptic interactions within this highly organized neural structure to proceed at an unprecedented pace. This technique has been adopted by several other laboratories around the world and is now at the cutting edge of neurophysiological research in this area. It has also been extended within the group to include slices containing both receptor neurons and the olfactory bulb, as well as similar preparations of the vomeronasal system and the application of both patch recording and calcium imaging to these preparations.

Investigators in this group have developed a novel new preparation for patch recording from receptor cells in intact taste buds maintained within the epithelium of the tongue or palate, allowing for the first time the application of a wide range of taste stimuli to these cells. The pharmacology of synaptic interactions in the olfactory bulb and the gustatory brainstem are the subject of research in this area. Researchers in this group were the first to identify glutamate as the primary neurotransmitter at the olfactory bulb and in the nucleus of the solitary tract in the medulla (the first central gustatory relay nucleus). Application of transgenic mouse technology is being used to study mechanisms of sensory transduction and mechanisms regulating chemosensory gene expression. Characterization of molecules, the expression of which changes during development and in response to other perturbations, is being studied with genomic arrays. Thus, this group of scientists brings state-of-the-art neurobiological expertise to the study of all aspects of the chemical senses and the Program in Neuroscience is internationally recognized as a leading research and training center in this field.