In an environment cluttered with competing information, animals are faced with the challenge of detecting stimuli critical for their survival and reproductive success. Neural mechanisms such as center-surround, orientation selectivity and color opponency promote feature extraction in the early visual system. Less is understood, however, about how perceptual saliency is achieved in the olfactory system. We hypothesize that gain control by synaptic modulation is an important mechanism to prune irrelevant olfactory information and accentuate neural response to behaviorally relevant cues in the environment. Olfactory systems exhibit similar design principles across many species in the animal kingdom, including insects and mammals. Insect odorant receptor neurons (ORNs) relay odor information to glomeruli in the antennal lobe (AL), a structure that resembles the vertebrate olfactory bulb. Excitatory and inhibitory local interneurons (LNs) in the antennal lobe play an important role in controlling antennal lobe output. Axons of second order projection neurons (PNs) innervate two higher brain centers - the mushroom body (MB) and the lateral horn (LH). The anatomical simplicity and the power of genetics make Drosophila a particularly amenable system to study the neural circuit for feature extraction in the olfactory system. Experiments in Aims 1 are designed to probe the modulatory mechanism of dopamine in a context-dependent olfactory behavior.
In Aims 2 and 3, we will test the hypothesis that serotonin, a neuromodulator associated with arousal and wakefulness, promotes contrast enhancement and functions to enhance feature in a noisy odor environment. Behavioral experiments are aimed to test the role of serotonin in this context (Specific Aim 2). Physiological experiments are designed to better understand the antennal lobe circuitry mediating serotonin's effects on odor representation (Specific Aim 3). Neuromodulators play key roles in flexibly altering synaptic processing in local circuits in response to both internal and external cues. The proposed projects address the role of serotonin and dopamine in a fundamental problem in olfactory processing: how does olfactory context influence the saliency of certain olfactory features? Understanding basic principles about how neuromodulators exert their actions on simple olfactory circuits will provide insight into understanding how different therapeutic agents targeting serotonin or dopamine signaling shape information processing in neural systems.
The proposed projects address the role of serotonin and dopamine in a fundamental problem in sensory processing: how does olfactory context influence the saliency of certain olfactory features? Understanding basic principles about how neuromodulators exert their actions on simple olfactory circuits will provide insight into understanding how different therapeutic agents targeting serotonin or dopamine signaling shape information processing in neural systems.
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