My current research focuses on identifying general organizing principles governing how the olfactory system detects and responds to chemical signals that regulate social behaviors in mammals. In the past 4 years, we investigated how the sensory organs in the nasal cavity detect various olfactory stimuli, including those that elicit aggressive, maternal and defensive behaviors, using mouse as a model organism. We were not only interested in identifying and characterizing the olfactory ligands but defining which sensory organs and receptors participate in their detection. More recently, our group has investigated how these various olfactory cues lead to brain activation, focusing on examining how different brain areas represent olfactory information collected from the outside environment.
In the next years, we plan to characterize these brain regions, to define the molecular and celullar identity of neurons activated after the animal detects each olfactory stimulus, and to understand the logic of odor processing in higher brain centers. Another project that has been recently started is the development of methods to deorphanize olfactory receptors en masse. Finally, we are interested in understanding the regulatory chain of events leading to the differentiation of olfactory sensory neurons in vivo, to eventually use this knowledge to differentiate these and other neuronal subtypes in vitro.