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Departmental Seminar: Dr. Yun Zhang
Event Date: 9.30.2013
Day: Monday
Time: 12:00 pm
Location: 700 Fairchild
Event Type: Departmental


Associate Professor
Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Center for Brain Science
Harvard University

Title: "Circuit mechanisms underlying olfactory plasticity"


My research has contributed to the understanding of the property and function of neural circuits. As a graduate student, I asked how a sensorimotor circuit acquires specific function through development. Using the C. elegans mechanosensory neurons, I generated the first neuronal-type specific expression profile, which revealed the molecular composition of these specialized cells [Zhang et al., Nature 418:331]. During postdoctoral research, I decided to study the function of neural circuits by probing the mechanisms underlying olfactory learning in C. elegans, because this system is accessible by molecular, cellular and imaging tools. I established an olfactory learning paradigm whereby the nematode learns to avoid the smell of food that makes them ill, analogous to the taste aversion paradigm found in many animals, including humans [Zhang et al., Nature 438:179]. In my own laboratory, we use this learning paradigm to obtain mechanistic insights into the function of the neural circuits underlying olfactory behavior and plasticity at a systems level with a resolution of individual synapses. We have functionally mapped a neuronal network that encodes both the naive and learned olfactory preferences [Ha et al., Neuron 68:1173]. We have identified a new type of circuits, "topographic circuits", which is organized by the subcellular localization of the synapses [Hendricks et al., Nature 487:99]. We have also characterized "invisible circuits", which regulate behavior through ligand-receptor interactions [Chen et al., Neuron 77:572]. Our findings have elucidated conserved features in the functional structure, computational property and modulatory signaling of neural circuits that underlie behavior and plasticity.

Host: Dr. Martin Chalfie