Main Research Focus (Neuronal Diversity)

A central theme of neuroscience, observed since the early drawings of neurons by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, has been the marked intrinsic variety of cells. In any neural circuit, distinct classes of neurons interact in intricate networks to drive functional outputs. Even within the same class, neurons can differ in their morphologies, synaptic connections, molecular expression, or physiological properties (Mainen and Sejnowski 1996; Root et al. 2008; Schulz et al. 2006; Vetter et al. 2001; Yagi 2013). Despite a growing list of identified neurons, the importance of intrinsic diversity within neurons of the same class has largely been ignored. However, recent studies are beginning to appreciate that this diversity among neurons of the same class has implications for brain function. Thus, knowledge of intrinsic neuronal diversity is essential to understand information processing within a neural circuit.

We want to understand how peripheral sensory neurons contribute to information processing in a model olfactory circuit and use that knowledge to reliably predict insect behavior. To do so, we want to determine precise contributions of an entire repertoire of first-order olfactory sensory neurons (OSNs) in the Drosophila melanogaster larva to olfactory behavior and develop computational models based on weighted integration of these peripheral inputs in odor coding circuits. This research is founded on recent publications from the lab (Mathew et al., 2013; Newquist et al., 2016) and a collaboration between Mathew and Schmidt (computational biologist, see letter of collaboration), who recently showed that larval OSNs can be clustered in to four functional groups based on their contributions to behavior (Clark et al., 2018).

We hypothesize that functional diversity of OSNs is an important component of encoding odor information. This hypothesis is supported by results from our lab (Mathew et al., 2013; Newquist et al., 2016) and others (Hernandez-Nunez et al., 2015; Yagi, 2013), which suggest that Drosophila larval OSNs differentially contribute to olfactory behavior.

Collaborator: Dr. Deena Schmidt (Dept. of Mathematics & Statistics, UNR)

Funding: NSE award from office of VPRI, UNR ($2,500).

Publications so far:


Slankster E, Odell SR, Mathew D. “Strength in diversity: functional diversity among olfactrory neurons of the same type”. Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes 51(1):65-75 [Link]


Clark DA, Odell SR, Armstrong JM, Turcotte M, Kohler D, Mathis A, Schmidt DR, Mathew D. Behavior Responses to Chemical and Optogenetic Stimuli in Drosophila Larvae. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience 12:324. [Link]

Clark, D. A., Kohler, D., Mathis, A., Slankster, E., Kafle, S., Odell, S. R., Mathew D. Tracking Drosophila Larval Behavior in Response to Optogenetic Stimulation of Olfactory Neurons. J. Vis. Exp. (133), (2018).  [Link]


Newquist G, Novenschi A, Kohler D, Mathew D. “Differential contributions of Olfactory Receptor Neurons in a Drosophila olfactory circuit”, (2016) eNeuro 2016; 3(4) [Link]