Dennis Mathew

Dennis Mathew in Lab

Functional Diversity of Olfactory Receptor Neurons

The ability of an animal to detect, discriminate, and respond to odors depends on the functions of its first-order olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs). The extent to which each ORN, upon activation, contributes to chemotaxis is not well understood. Olfactory behavior in the Drosophila larva is based on the activities of only 21 ORNs. Our preliminary studies suggest that larval ORNs are functionally diverse. The knowledge of how ORN diversity contributes to encode odor information is critical for developing odor coding models that can reliably predict larval behavior. The objectives of this project are to develop methods to account for ORN diversity in computational models and to determine the molecular mechanisms by which ORN diversity impacts olfactory function. Overall, this study represents a substantive departure from the status quo by considering an often overlooked aspect of olfactory information processing - the functional diversity among peripheral sensory neurons. This study is expected to advance understanding of how sensory information is encoded in the activities of a group of functionally diverse ORNs and further propagated down the circuit. It will also identify novel mechanisms by which an insect's physiological state impacts individual ORN function. As a result, new research horizons are expected to become attainable. Translational horizons such as developing solutions for insect control are also likely to become attainable.