I am interested in understanding how sensory percepts lead to behavior. Olfaction is one of the most dominant senses across many organisms. For rodents, the sense of smell is particularly crucial. The context in which odors are experienced is a not only a critical component in decoding the behavioral significance of the odors but also powerfully influences their perceptual qualities. The neural mechanism underlying the integration of contextual information and odor identity is unknown. This proposal aims to understand how the spatial context of an olfactory object is encoded in the olfactory cortex of mice. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, I will use a novel spatial context-dependent olfactory discrimination task, in combination with in vivo recordings and optogenetic manipulation to study the representation of odor and contextual information in populations of olfactory cortical neurons during behavior. I will also perform anatomical analysis and patch-clamp recordings from brain slices to understand the neural circuit mechanisms that underlie my findings in vivo.
I will be hosted by the group of Dr. Zachary Mainen in the newly established Champalimaud Neuroscience Program in Portugal. The systems neuroscience focus of the CNP, my past research experience, scientific interest, and future career goals makes this proposal the perfect match for both the host and I. This project will not only provide data on fundamental and unanswered questions in sensory neuroscience, it will also allow me to develop a multidisciplinary approach to systems neuroscience. By combining sophisticated behavioral assays with cutting-edge techniques in optogenetics and neurophysiology, this project will put the host lab and I at the forefront of systems neuroscience research, and strengthen my potential for becoming a principal investigator. By funding this study, the Marie Curie Work Programme will secure its long-held leading role in supporting innovative neuroscience research.
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